Only Lovers Left Alive

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UK Release Date 21st February 2014
Director Jim Jarmusch
Starring Swinton & Hiddleston
Runtime 123 Minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 15th February 2014

Ah, Jarmusch, what an unpronounceable infuriating person you are. For every superb Dead Man (our favourite), there’s a WTF Coffee and Cigarettes. Enigmatic and often downright obtuse, it’s always a gamble looking forward to a Jarmusch movie. Not that we get that luxury very often given his output only gifts us with a piece every three of four years.

Coming four years after the interesting but largely frustrating Limits of Control (there is a common element between that film and this, namely lack of hold luggage), Only Lovers Left Alive has more in common with Dead Man than Jarmusch’s recent efforts. This tells the tale of two married vampires, celebrating more years together than any mineral or gem will reward. Initially separated by the Atlantic (presumably you need some time apart after being married for centuries), Eve (Tilda Swinton) is persuaded to travel from her base in Tangiers to see Adam (Tom Hiddleston) at his rock ’n roll pad in the outskirts of Detroit. Eve it would appear spends the majority of her time reading whilst Adam has forged something of an underground niche as a rock musician of some note. The former pastime giving rise to some unusual luggage packing, the latter giving Jarmusch the excuse to fill his film with some wonderful music.

Both vampires have secured their ‘supply’ without the need to resort to ‘15th Century’ violence. Eve has her’s delivered by John Hurt’s Christopher Marlowe (via a ‘good French doctor’), Adam somewhat more amusingly troops out (resplendent in full surgical gear and 1960’s stethoscope) to see Jeffrey Wright’s crooked doctor. Adam seems ill at ease with his borderline stardom, preferring to stay as anonymous as possible and for that matter, ill at ease with his continuing existence. Early in the movie we find him procuring a wooden bullet from go-to man Ian (Anton Yelchin) which he loads into his gun and presses against his chest. Eve seems more at home with her lot, potentially due to her being substantially older than Adam, the wisdom of excessive experience maybe. Having made the perilous nighttime only trip from Tangier, things start to go wrong when Eve’s errant sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) turns up on the doorstep. Ava conspires to fling the lovers out into the open and on the lamb and on return to Tangier the discovery of a bed-ridden Marlowe threatens their lives.

From the outset, Only Lovers Left Alive is pretty much a romantic comedy and if that puts you off, carry on reading. Jarmusch’s script is peppered with laugh out loud moments, predominantly born out of Adam’s world weary view of life and the down-to-earth practicalities of living life as a vampire (difficult international travel, the lack of need for a functioning toilet...). The ‘suicidally romantic scoundrel’ (as Marlowe puts it) that is Adam is a wonderful creation and Hiddleston is note-prefect in the role. Every bit the rock star in looks, Adam slouches around his bric-a-brac house in centuries old dressing gowns, hair draped across his pasty visage. Determinedly entrenched in the past (his version of Skype is utterly hilarious) and obsessed with fallen scientists, his mood is matched perfectly by Jarmusch’s own music. Though drenched in his own depressed world view, we’re never forced to dislike Adam, he is too intelligent and too droll to ever come across as arrogant or self-obsessed. His relationship with Ian is equally entertaining. Tasked with any job that involves daylight hours or interaction with people, Yelchin’s Ian is part Wayne’s World stoner and part life companion. Ian is full of respect and enthusiasm for his mysterious boss making him a great foil for Hiddleston.

Swinton takes arguably the more straight role but is none the worse for it. Her Eve is a eerily beautiful creation, first presented lying resplendent in her bed, decked out in what looks like an ornate curtain but is probably a far more impressive piece of period clothing. Swinton’s calm authority in the character means we feel the further years (centuries!) she has on her husband. Jarmusch’s slightly removed style means although we entirely believe in the couple’s centuries old love, it’s never bludgeoned home. Wasikowska inhabits the movie only relatively briefly but her effect on the couple is significant. Her annoyingly bubbly Ava is a stark, youthful contrast to the more seasoned vampires. Living in LA (you can imagine what Adam makes of that) and having caused unspecific trouble for the couple 80 odd years previous, her arrival in town is bound to cause problems. It also produces one of the funniest lines of the movie (‘I didn’t mean to, and now I feel sick…’).

As for the vampiric element, well, it’s dealt with very much as you would expect from Jarmusch. The source of a great deal of the humour in the script, the actual vampiric traits are played dead straight and very matter of factly. Blood is procured as you would a drug and consumed in pretty much the same fashion and any special abilities the vampires possess are barely glimpsed if at all (there is certainly no flying here). These vampires are not the screeching monsters that are usually presented, they understand that no good will come of wilful murder (covering your tracks is becoming increasingly difficult) and they have no interest in taking over the world. More interested, or in Adam’s case, mortified observers of the ‘zombies’ that inhabit the earth, Jarmusch’s vampires are more likely to be a danger to themselves as they are human kind. Adam having located himself in the most barren part of a dying city in order to remove himself from both his own kind and as much of mankind as he can and Eve lurking anonymously in the perma-yellow tinted alleyways of Tangier.

This may be Jarmusch’s finest moment. I’m still debating that, but if it isn’t, it’s damn close. At a languid 123 minutes, he hasn’t skimped on running time in making this more accessible movie and it doesn’t drag for a second. Easily his funniest film to date, Only Lovers Left Alive is a wonderful creation. Filled with a typically vibrant, sonorous atmosphere, you feel enveloped by Adam and Eve’s world. There are more intelligent historical references here than I had any chance of keeping up with and even a Shakespeare gag worthy of a trombone doesn’t cause any misstep. Hiddleston has never been better and is probably the best cast vampire I’ve seen in a long time. His Adam is the antithesis of the archetypal vampire and it’s an absolute joy to behold - you can easily image spending a century with him and still not getting close to knowing the whole of him. Populated with superb characters and blessed with an intelligent, witty script, this is a movie that will bear watching far more than once.

Check out the trailer here.

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