I’m not sure what’s worse, sparkling vampires or hipster vampires. Alright, totally kidding, because there’s not a single Twilight comparison throughout Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, and dammit if Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston aren’t the coolest vampires this side of Brooklyn. I mean, Hiddleston’s character Adam wears sunglasses at night, writes music he never wants heard, and collects vintage guitars no one will ever see – he’s about one patch of ill-advised facial hair and a fedora away from being the King of all who couldn’t care less.
Honestly, what did you expect from a Jarmusch film about vampires? Every horrific aspect is so underplayed, akin to an indie rock band who appear to have begrudgingly taken the stage, but just like how lethargic rockers amass monster crowds by seemingly ignoring them, that’s how Swinton and Hiddleston charm their way into our hearts. Only Lovers Left Alive is Jarmusch’s rebellious gesture towards romantic dramas and vampire horror flicks, being more punk rock than The Offspring’s death scene in Idle Hands. Vampires are the emo kids on the horror playground, writing gloomy songs and hiding in the desolate wilds of Detroit, and there’s something strangely sexy about that – the angsty bread and butter of Jarmusch’s vampiric chill-out session.
In terms of story, Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton) are undead lovers who have been alive for centuries, able to nostalgically reminisce about some of the most famous historical characters as if they’re old elementary school chums. Adam is a “struggling” musician yearning for his creative muse, so he convinces Eve to travel back home for comfort. After reuniting, it’s not long before Eve’s rambunctious sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) crashes their romantic affair, lapping up pristine blood and cramping their lounging lifestyle. Eve cares for her sister, but Adam can’t seem to be bothered by her fun-loving frenzy, testing his patience with every childish antic. These lovers have survived decades of human stupidity – but can they survive Ava?
Don’t be fooled, because there’s ample amounts of subtext hidden underneath the nonchalant exterior of Only Lovers Left Alive, mostly expressed through Adam’s cynicism. His general disdain towards humanity’s selfish crumbling is only the tip of the iceberg, as the rocker constantly refers to humans as zombies – commenting on our braindead nature – while constantly searching for untainted blood. Yes, drinking from the wrong human could bring on a nasty bout of blood poisoning (a vampire’s equivalent to food poisoning), due to man’s filthy, despicably abhorrent nature – social commentary so strong that even sophisticated bloodsuckers look down on us. Hiddleston fits the role of reclusive shut-in with the grace of a sedated Joey Ramone, only bothering with a single human named Ian (Anton Yelchin), as he waxes poetic about life’s monotony while sulking around in robes and dreaming of more intellectually fulfilling eternal existence.
Of course, as Tilda Swinton puts together an MVP caliber acting year, Only Lovers Left Alive only furthers the notion of her being one of the more curiously intriguing actresses hopping around Indiewood. Her role as Eve injects a tad more life into the pale-skinned vampire life Adam chose, challenging him while simultaneously stimulating deeper, emotional thoughts.
Swinton always seems to reach unique, bonkers levels of energy that conjure a unique acting experience whenever she’s effortlessly prancing about the screen, even just comparing Eve to her dictating ruler in Snowpiercer. Swinton doesn’t act, she transforms, and in this case, she’s a hipster goddess with an albino touch wearing a mane of flowing, unkempt webbing. Comfortably flaunting her body, Swinton’s grace is intoxicating – a true artistic treat caught in Jarmusch’s world.
While Only Lovers Left Alive wants you to believe the film doesn’t care whether you’re interested or not, Jarmusch secretly plans out every meticulous detail, including a hauntingly disturbing score by none other than SQÜRL – Jarmusch’s band. Yes, teaming with Jozef Van Wissem, Jarmusch provides the original score that rings throughout Only Lovers Left Alive, striking a brooding blues rhythm that embraces darkness. While musically heavy, chewy enough to really bite into, the songs bolster Adam’s own voice and emotions, helping us understand his “whatever” mentality. Love is the only thing keeping Adam’s faint heart beating – that, and the Type-O good stuff – but Jarmusch submerges all characters into a pool of sorrow, pretension and romantic expressionism that only such a stylistic orchestrator can capture.
Jarmusch’s film may be shrouded in darkness, but there are still a plethora of shots worthy of a proper Blu-Ray transfer. Between the dilapidated state of Detroit and the rustic nature of Morocco, Only Lovers Left Alive captures beautiful scenery and broken-down relics in the very same breath. There’s a calculated juxtaposition of beauty and deterioration, combating vampiric tones with vibrant instruments and such, which are transferred in a more than passable quality. Likewise, the audio tracks explode out of our speakers despite sluggish rhythms, and the crispness of each track builds heavy layers into each lustful scene. The marriage of visual pleasure and song highlights Jarmusch’s most refined talents, and fans will enjoy showcasing yet another JJ classic in their collection.
As for Special Features, this is what emerges from the darkness:
- Deleted/Extended Scenes
- Traveling At Night With Jim Jarmusch (Behind-The-Scenes Documentary)
- Music Video – “Hal” by Yasmine Hamdan
While the Traveling At Night With Jim Jarmusch documentary provides an equally artistic take on behind-the-scenes footage, essentially just following Jarmusch’s every move with minimal talking head work, only true fans of cinema will enjoy the dry depiction of filmmaking. Without much explanation, scenes will feel fluffy instead of insightful to the untrained eye, but it’s a rather apt representation of Jarmusch himself all things considered. Also worth the watch is “Hal” by Yasmine Hamdan, a young singer with a whimsically intoxicating voice and commanding control. The song is utilized towards the end of Only Lovers Left Alive, and is a must listen – this uninterrupted video is the perfect companion.
You could analyze Only Lovers Left Alive for days, between obvious correlations to drug addiction and the moral decaying of man, but at its core, Jarmusch has created a touching bit of romance that would never admit to being such – because, like, it’s not cool to show emotions. There’s a slouchy elegance to Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, two perfectly captured lovers who are aided by strong supporting roles from both Mia Wasikowska and Anton Yelchin (their interaction providing Hiddleston’s funniest moment). Sure, the buildup to Eve’s arrival may drag a bit (the difference between 3.5 and 4 stars), although Hiddleston’s fiddling with such pristine guitar specimens will rev any musician’s engine, but once the faded couple reunites, a witty tenderness overpowers mundane lounging. Jarmusch creates movies for certain audiences, so anyone expecting Young Adult baloney or vicious Stake Land material will be underwhelmed, but as far as romantic fairytales go, Only Lovers Left Alive is too cool for school – and we can dig it.
Only Lovers Left Alive is Jim Jarmusch's punk-rock anthem for the vampire drama, playing too-cool but still possessing a sophisticated, bewildering soul.