Film Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

Indie trailblazer Jim Jarmusch delivers yet another highly original take on a familiar genre, with vampire blood, moody sounds and mesmerizing visuals the infusion here. Fans won’t be disappointed, especially with a mellow and ever-mysterious Til

Hipster filmmaker Jim Jarmusch (Down by Law, Stranger Than Paradise, Broken Flowers) is back in form and delivering cinematic cool with Only Lovers Left Alive, his first vampire foray. Like quirky Hal Hartley, another notable pre-millennial indie auteur, the genre-jumping Jarmusch is an acquired taste. But he’s ever dependable to do something different and memorable, which he does here, and this latest may awaken the content-weary.

Taking place in both a dark, desolate Detroit and exotic Tangiers of narrow, empty streets, this creepy contemporary love story has separated vampire lovers—Eve (Tilda Swinton) and Adam (Brit actor Tom Hiddleston)—eager to reunite. He’s a depressed underground rock musician, unhappy to observe that human beings, as Jarmusch humor has it, have become zombies. He distracts himself by collecting guitars and occasionally recording in his massive, messy old Detroit digs. Meanwhile, Eve lives in a book-filled Tangiers apartment and spends time with vampire pal Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt)—yes, that Marlowe, Shakespeare’s contemporary. They grab a drink together (blood), get high, and hang near the harbor.

Adam and Eve, although far apart, are long-lived, longtime lovers who miss each other. Adam buys his guitars from his total rock-dude pal Ian (Anton Yelchin), who is in awe of the older musician for whom he serves as a kind of dealer and hanger-on. Perhaps suicidal, Adam asks Ian to get him a special kind of bullet made of extra-hard wood and encased in metal. For his blood needs, he regularly disguises himself as a surgeon, sneaks into a local hospital and cops cylinders of fresh plasma from Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright), a hemotologist.

Eve decides to travel to Detroit to be with Adam, and the reunion is a nice one. But along comes her rowdy younger sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), who, after insisting upon crashing at Adam’s, eventually creates havoc. The three, bedecked in shades, go clubbing, listening to cool music. Eventually, Ava takes a big bite of Ian, draws blood and is kicked out of Adam’s digs. Later, in Tangiers, Eve tends to an ailing Marlowe, who was given bad blood.

Maybe Only Lovers is meant to be an allegory of drug culture years ago when books, movies and plays saw it as kinda cool. Lurching toward a retro look and sensibility, the film is certainly short on story but long on style, attitude and atmosphere. In this pile-up are many nocturnal shots of rundown Detroit streets and decaying or destroyed buildings past grandeur (the old Packard plant, a cavernous old movie theatre). Exotic in another way are the curling Tangiers passageways and musty interiors. Jarmusch boldly lets his camera linger on all this. Production design, too, emphasizes the retro side of things—old instruments, TVs, recording equipment, 45s. The film’s sound design and often trance-like music are super-cool.

Such audiovisuals and the committed performances by a cast that impresses as almost believing in all these vampire entanglements magically give the film a strange reality and resonance that linger after its hypnotic spell. And the word “vampire” is not uttered—how cool is that?

So it’s hip hip but a not a whole lot of hooray for this unhurried tale of blood-dependent vampires of a different, er, type.

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