Seriously, what is it about Jim Jarmusch and his films that makes them so god damned cool? He makes a certain type of film that could only be defined as his own, and yet from a surface perspective, you would be excused into thinking that his films could be entirely boring. They usually move at a snail’s pace, have a tendency to be rather long in regards to the content of the story being told and include dramatic beats that can be referred to as minor, and yet in spite of all this or rather because of all this, Jarmusch’s films are always entertaining and so very cool. “Only Lovers Left Alive” is his latest film and is yet another stunning achievement from one of the most unique cinematic voices to ever come out of the United States.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” is a story about two vampires, centuries old, who are madly in love with each other, struggling to exist in the modern world. The majority of the film is set in Detroit where Adam lives, writing music and bemoaning the fact that the human race has destroyed all the good that was once in the world. He is so down about the state of the world that Adam has become suicidal, and has even gone to the trouble to have had a wooden bullet made for himself to help him succeed in this task if he should ever desire to follow through with it. Having been married and in love for centuries, Eve has seen it all before and understands that this is a just a phase of disillusionment that Adam is going through, yet she decides to leave her Moroccan home to visit her husband in an attempt to cheer him up, and remind him of just how fun life can be. Upon Eve’s arrival, Adam immediately brightens up, as the two vampires do normal things that couples do; play games, talk, go for a drive together and even share a glass of the best quality blood (O- of course). Everything seems to be going well, until Eve’s sister Ava shows up out of the blue for a visit. From her presence and her carefree immature ways, Ava causes the couple extreme angst to the point that they end up having to flee Detroit in an attempt to survive.
If you are familiar with Jim Jarmusch’s previous work, then I am sure you would have some sort of image of what a Jim Jarmusch vampire picture may look like, and the truth of the matter is, you would probably be right. “Only Lovers Left Alive” bears the stamp of its creator / director like a bright and proud beacon. Right from the opening frame, it is immediately obvious who was behind the film’s creation, to the point that it couldn’t have been made by anyone else. It bears all the trademarks of a Jarmusch film; the slow pace, the minimal drama, the richly drawn and entertaining characters, the stunning visual style and his well known great taste in music used to maximum effect. But to answer my own question above, what makes Jim Jarmusch’s films so cool is the little details he puts into his films to create a world that feels real and lived in (even if it is in a heightened state), and the fact that he always populates these worlds with the most interesting characters that are always a joy to be around. Sure, for the most part, these characters have a very laid back attitude to life but their humanity always shines through (even when the characters are vampires).
The characters of Adam and Eve are interesting because they seem to be total opposites of one another and yet together they work as one and are very obviously made for each other. Adam is the “ying” to Eve’s “yang”, with Jarmusch going one step further by making Adam represent the dark of the past, while Eve, the bright of the future. Adam is constantly depressed about the current state of the world, nostalgic of simpler times and seems to reject modern digital technology in favour of his preferred analogue world. Adam blames the humans (whom he calls “zombies”) for the world as it is today, and for the fact that mediocrity is celebrated so readily. He feels this is significantly pronounced in the music industry, which he himself is a part of, where being famous no longer has anything to do with a person’s musical talent and as such Adam lives as a recluse hiding from his fans. Eve on the other hand is the complete opposite in that she is always upbeat, can see the good in all things, and is someone who has no problem evolving and moving with the times. Unlike her husband, Eve also has no issue in adapting to modern technology as we witness her on a number of times using an iPhone (hmmm, Adam and Eve, and Apple – where have I heard that before?). Furthermore, where the two choose to call their home also gives an insight into our characters mindset with Adam living in old, downtown Detroit, while Eve lives in Tangiers which is a combination of old and modern setting. Jarmusch even goes so far as to dress Eve in white and Adam in black for those who may be slow in getting the point. However, as I mentioned above, when the two lovers are together, everything just works and seems so right, as Eve is able to negate Adam’s darkness and suicidal tendencies and he can enjoy life yet again.
Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton portray Adam and Eve respectively and both are amazing. Personally, I am not the biggest Swinton fan, as I often find her a very cold actress so it is ironic that in the role of a vampire, I found her to be her warmest and most human yet. She is simply stunning in the role, to the point that you cannot take your eyes off of her, and I loved her lightness of touch that she gave while portraying Eve; never once overplaying her. Hiddleston obviously has the heavier role, with Adam being enveloped with a dark depression to the point of being suicidal, but he does a stunning job of making Adam very real and someone you actually like to be around. This character had the danger of becoming very annoying because he is always moping about feeling sorry for himself, but Hiddleston infuses the character with a very dry sense of humour and he isn’t above making fun of his own current situation.
While John Hurt is impressive in a brief role, the other performance I want to mention is Mia Wasikowska as Eve’s sister, Ava. She ends up being the chaos of the film, the character that creates all of the drama but through Wasikowska’s performance she also becomes the most entertaining character of the whole film. Wasikowska plays Ava with the energy of a young teenage girl; immature in every way possible, lacking any responsibility at all. She is the kind of person that if she wants to do something, she will without thinking of the consequences it may have on herself or anyone else. While the characters of Adam and Eve are more slow, stoic and thoughtful, Ava bursts into frame with all the energy of the world. She is constantly moving, never slowing down to examine her surroundings, only in search of good time. This is one of my favourite performances from Wasikowska and is almost the complete opposite to her very dark role in “Stoker”, showing just how great a range she has as an actor. Ava, through Mia Wasikowska’s performance, is such a fun character to be with that it is such a shame her screen time is so minor.
While the film is definitely a vampire film, Jarrmusch was never going to create a “traditional” vampire tale. His vampires are very elegant and are above biting people in an attempt to assuage their thirst. Instead we witness them drinking as if it was a fine wine, out of precious glassware. The way that Jarmusch shoots the vampires after they have drunk the blood, gives the feeling that they are almost on a drug high, as the camera and the vampires have a floating feeling to them, and it is in these moments that their fangs become prominent. It really is a beautiful repeated image. Jarmusch has also added to vampire lore with his inclusion of the polite removal of gloves. In his world, vampires have the ability to “read” the history of a person or object through simple touch of their hands, and as such they wear gloves when out. When entering a new house, similar to being invited inside, the vampires await permission to remove their gloves, which I thought was a nice detail added by Jarmusch.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” is a simply stunning film to look at. The production design team have done a fabulous job of filling Adam’s loft apartment with small details that probably add little to the film, but give it the feeling that it is indeed lived in. The cinematography by Yorick Le Saux is sumptuous as is Jarmusch’s bold use of bright colours. I particularly loved the scenes early on in the film of Tilda Swinton walking the streets of Tangiers. The colours of light blue (almost teal, I guess) and the yellows just mesmerised me. The films of Jim Jarmusch are always beautiful to look at and stunningly shot, but “Only Lovers Left Alive” may be the best yet (which is saying something after how gorgeous “The Limits Of Control” looked).
Overall, I simply loved “Only Lovers Left Alive” and could probably talk about it for hours. While I understand that it will not be for everyone, I think I can safely say that if you are a fan of Jim Jarmusch, you are definitely in for a treat. I would go so far to say that it is now my second favourite Jarmusch film, behind only “Dead Man” (with “Down By Law” not far behind in third). The performances are all impeccable, and for a film with a character contemplating suicide, it is also a very funny film of the driest sense possible (a very short scene of Adam and Eve playing chess is hilarious). Because music is not my strong point, I have mentioned little about it in regards to this film, but suffice to say it is excellent and befitting of the tone of the film. If you think this is a movie that suits your cinematic tastes, I recommend running to the first screening of “Only Lovers Left Alive” that comes across your way; it is seriously that good.