Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

Submitted by Spirit of the Thing on April 13, 2014 - 10:03am


Fans of Jim Jarmusch are likely very excited for his Only Lovers Left Alive which hit theaters on April 11. I personally have been waiting for nearly two years since it was announced and 7 months for it to arrive since its premiere at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. I must admit, I was curious how Jarmusch, normally very minimal and sparse in his dialogue and production design but lush as far as visuals go, would handle the vampire genre. I've always had a soft spot for vampire films...or should I say good ones. Twilight and every little subgroup of teenage vampire angst and sparkle can suck it (pun intended). 30 Days of Night, now that's a vampire movie. I wish there were a movie where Danny Huston's character from 30 Days tore through every crappy vampire movie eviscerating each of the whiny, navel gazing wussy vampires that seem so chic now.

Only Lovers Left Alive tells the story of a vampire couple, aptly named Adam (embodied fantastically by shooting star Tom Hiddleston who can't seem to miss these days) and Eve (played exquisitely by perhaps the easiest casting choice ever, Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton). Their centuries-old love is so strong they remain bonded together despite Adam living in Detroit and Eve in Tangier, one in the new world, the other firmly entrenched in the old. Adam has huddled himself away from the world in a ramshackle home in some shabby Detroit neighborhood and focuses on creating music. He doesn't employ the latest technology. He eschews the strides made by humans over the last 40+ years and instead employs the instruments of yesteryear, when rock and roll was far more pure, untainted by the commercial and corporate sharks that now patrol the musical waters looking for the next commodity from which to exploit and milk every last cent they can. This notion seems to mirror Adam's distaste (damn, the flood gates are open in punville) for the humans of today. Knowing that the humans walking the earth now have become infected and diseased courtesy of their own ambivalence towards their world, Adam as well as Eve has withdrawn from feeding on them. Both have access to special suppliers of pure, untainted blood - Adam through Dr. Watson (played by Jeffrey Wright) at one of the local hospitals and Eve through the old world poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe (a top notch performance by John Hurt). But Adam is uneasy and through the help of the only human outside of Dr. Watson he can trust, his musical instrument supplier Ian (Anton Yelchin), he also obtains a wooden bullet in case the aches of this world inhabited by so much greed and rot becomes too much for him.

When Eve catches wind of Adam's malaise, she hops a plane from Tangier, which isn't an easy thing for a nightdweller to do, and flies to Detroit. When she arrives, Adam's ills begin to fade. She is an equalizing force and comes to him at a critical junction. But as we know, these days of happiness never last and when Eve's sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) arrives, it's clear trouble is a-brewin'. With blood supplies low now that a third party has arrived to partake of them, Adam especially tries his best to get rid of her. After a night of partying, Ava's actions tip the balance of the peaceful existence as Adam has feared. Forced to leave Detroit, they risk everything, including their very existence, as they attempt to return to Tangier.

I am happy to report, and this should be no surprise, that Jarmusch's elegant film trumps pretty much every vampire movie ever made. From top to bottom, this film shines. Overused vampire cliches are absent from this film, which helps it breathe fresh air into what has become an overwrought and stilted genre of films, which has not been helped by television either (the last three or four seasons of True Blood, I'm looking at you). Still present is the minimal brooding so prevalent in Jarmusch's films, perhaps put to its best use yet. The dark foreboding nature of the vampire is so well suited to Jarmusch's style of filmmaking. Couple this with the melancholy soundtrack/score provided by Josef van Wissem and it's a home run. Jarmusch has always been able to integrate music so well into his films. This is no exception.

The performances by the two leads should surprise no one. Swinton is cast in a role she was made for and as I stated above Hiddleston can seem to do no wrong. They are a perfect match and their chemistry on screen is palpable. Ellen Lewis, who cast the movie and who has worked extensively with Jarmusch and Scorsese, deserves an award for this film as there really only are six roles of any substance and they must work together incredibly well or the film fails (obviously some of the credit goes to Jarmusch as well for his direction and justly so). That we only see the vampires fangs when they drink blood (from glasses and flasks not from human necks or wrists) and without the accompanying "click" so often employed these days in shows like True Blood is a wonderful touch. I would easily slate this film in my top five of Jarmusch's films. He'd have to make a Citizen Kane-like masterpiece to top either Stranger Than Paradise or Down By Law and he may well be capable of that. This one is pretty damn close. That he worked with longtime François Ozon director of photography, Yorick Le Saux (who also shot Luca Guadagnino's beautiful I Am Love), is also a perfect move. While Le Saux's photography doesn't have the same raw beauty as that of Jarmusch's longtime collaborator Robby Müller, it does a fantastic job of setting the mood and adding depth to the film. The pacing of this film differs from past Jarmusch works in that it is a lot more dialogue-heavy and less reliant on pregnant silence and pauses. Like I said, top to bottom, this one is a winner. No spolier, but the ending scene is absolutely perfect and may well stick in your mind for hours after watching it. I certainly did for me.

Frankly, this is going to be like no other vampire movie you have seen in the last 25 years and may be like no other ever. Jarmusch is among the most exciting and innovative filmmakers working and each of his films is a true event in my eyes. If only we got them a little more frequently. If you're looking for something out of the ordinary, a film to help cleanse the mental palette before the mind-numbing shockwave of summer blockbuster shit hits, I'd suggest seeing Only Lovers Left Alive. I'd like to think you'd be pleasantly surprised. There's no doubt that this film isn't for everyone, though. To be sure, I would highly suggest checking out some of Jarmusch's earlier works, Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, Broken Flowers and Dead Man being the three that might most hit home with wider audiences.

He is Jeremy Harmon aka Spirit of the Thing aka Harmonov. Once a Van Damme/action movie devotee, he now prefers to delve into small budget, independent and foreign films. Jeremy maintains that Slap Shot is the best movie ever. Follow him on Twitter @harmonov or read his new blog @