Only Lovers Left Alive isn’t like the vampire films Hollywood have churned out over the years. There’s no sparkle, nor is there much in the way of action or suspense, only people – people with a deep resentment for the world in which they inhabit, who happen to favour blood over food and other liquids. It pays to be different though, and Jim Jarmusch’s film is a stunning subversion that’s entrenched in a wonderful sense of artistry and atmosphere.
Adam (Tom Hiddleston), a lonely musician living in the derelict city of Detroit and whose only friend is stoner and admirer Ian (Anton Yelchin), reunites with his decades-old wife Eve (Tilda Swinton) when he becomes frustrated with the world. Their love is tested, however, with the unexpected arrival of Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), who threatens their perpetual lives like the uncontrollable hurricane she is.
Less reliant on narrative than on mood, rich aesthetics (both the cinematography and production design are superb) and Jozef Van Wilssem’s melancholic score, Only Lovers Left Alive isn’t for everyone. But for those willing to hand themselves over to the beguiling characters and the low-key, melodic way in which Jarmusch lets us into their world, it’s an absolute treat. There, too, are sharp comic undertones that spike the cool, calm surface enough to award it a perceptive bite.
It’s a bite that not only enables the critiques that Jarmusch offers up on the deterioration of society to appeal to our beliefs rather than offending them, but also for the actors to play up to their respective characters fascinations and frustrations, whether it be Adam’s irritation with the so-called ‘zombies’ of the world or Eve’s insistence that she must fly late at night. It’s these little touches that elevate Only Lovers Left Alive in all the right places.
Hiddleston and Swinton are effortless in their roles, making the time spent with Adam and Eve more enriching, even though little happens and there’s a serious lack of bloodlust or violence (these vampires have found other, less invasive ways to satisfy their needs). And with Jarmusch at his most playful, poking fun at a range of topics, including Shakespeare (through Eve’s friend Marlowe, played by John Hurt), Only Lovers Left Alive is a stunning and hypnotic must see.