Only Lovers Left Alive
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
A depressed musician reunites with his lover in the desolate streets of Detroit. Though their romance has endured several centuries, it is tested by the arrival of her capricious and unpredictable younger sister.
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★★★★ review by Adam Cook on Letterboxd
Jim Jarmusch’s latest may feature some familiar vampire iconography, whether it be the pallid anti-heroes or their thirst for blood, but Only Lovers Left Alive is as much a lament for the death of art and culture as it is about a centuries old love story. It is also the director’s best film in years, a haunting and hypnotic mood piece less interested in clever plotting and more about its heady nocturnal atmosphere.
Tom Hiddleston stars as Adam, a vampire sinking into a melancholic and existential funk, who is stranded in a decaying and abandoned Detroit whilst left alone to create symphonic drone music. He is reunited with Eve (Tilda Swinton), his centuries old lover who is still aware of the fading beauty that surrounds them. Together they surround themselves with the remnants of their past as Eve tries to shake her lover from his suicidal urges.
The film sinks its teeth into the audience within the opening minutes as the camera spirals around the lounging characters. It’s a mesmerising opening both richly sensory yet also representative of the characters, mirroring their perpetual existence and their cyclical experience of the peaks and troughs of humanity. As a sensory experience you’d be hard pressed to find a more impressive example this year whether it be the spellbinding noodlings of its experimental soundtrack to the sumptuous digital cinematography and lovingly detailed production design.
Only Lovers Left Alive is part tender love story and part rumination on the importance of preserving culture. Adam and Eve are the bastions of a dying culture, desperately clinging to great works of art and the teachings of pioneering thinkers. Art, much like the film’s pale paramours, is eternal - living long past its creators and even beyond the dwindling interest of humanity.
Jarmusch smuggles in thoughtful themes about art, culture and humanity but it never weighs the film down. Instead the film washes over you with its languid rhythm and loose plotting creating a hypnotic experience. It’s a world you want to wallow in with the director creating an effortlessly cool atmosphere. Criticisms of hipsterism are valid to a point (and Adam borders on being a mopey teenager with centuries worth of baggage) but you always want to spend time with these characters.
What makes it work is that despite its palpable sense of melancholia, Jarmusch retains a playful tone. The film is filled with wry humour whilst the director lightly satirises his own work. The pair may lack beating hearts but the chemistry between Swinton and Hiddleston is electric. You believe wholeheartedly in their endless love affair and there is a wonderful sense of intimacy between them that is momentarily disrupted by the arrival of Eve’s wayward younger sister (a brilliant Mia Wasikowska).
Not only is this one of the finest films of the year but it also shows that there is still a glimmer of life in the stale vampire genre. Only Lovers Left Alive is a wistful and intoxicating delight.
★★★★★ review by Hollie Horror on Letterboxd
The wealth of knowledge vampires must amass after thousands of years is fully realized in Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive. Even though most vampire films have explored the longevity of the immortal, we very rarely see them reminisce about Nikola Tesla, the Spanish inquisition or Charlie Feathers' music. They adapt, survive, evolve, dance, read, make music, and most importantly - they love.
Adam is a wistful poet, secluded in his decrepit house in Detroit where he spends most of his time writing funeral music and contemplating suicide. His wife, Eve, lives in Tangiers, surrounded by books in various languages with only enough space in the middle of her floor to dance. Their interests may be different but they respectfully indulge each other, bonding through their evolved ethos.
Concerned about her husband, Eve travels to Detroit to be with him, but not before conferring with her only friend, fellow vampire Marlowe. Before Eve arrives, we also learn that Adam has a single friend, a musical instrument procurer named Ian.
Adam and Eve are reunited and before long interrupted and troubled with the intrusion of Eve's sister Ava. Ava is a young vampire, who is far too rambunctious for Adam. Her presence puts in motion an upset that sends Adam and Eve on a new and unknown adventure.
While Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, John Hurt and Mia Wasikowska (Stoker) were all wonderful in their roles as vampires, I also thoroughly enjoyed the performances of the humans they interact with. Anton Yelchin was adorable as Ian, Adam's personal gofer zombie. There's a scene where he's in a Detroit nightclub with Adam, Eve and Ava; the three vampires are clad in gloves and sunglasses and Ian, who hero worships Adam, quietly and insecurely pulls out a pair of sunglasses and slips them on in the darkened club, this amuses Eve as she smirks at his gesture. It was so subtle and seemingly insignificant, but it was one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie. It shows a loving and adoring side of Eve. I also LOVED the inclusion of Jeffrey Wright as a doctor who strikes up a dealer relationship with a strange man, posing as a Dr. Faust, who illegally buys type o negative blood from his workspace. Each time we see Adam interact with Dr. Watson (Wright), the doctor calls him different names (Dr. Strangelove, Dr. Caligari). Jeffrey Wright perfected that small role. I also enjoyed the small added detail that acted as a nod to a role Jeffrey Wright once played, as when Eve is packing for her trip to Detroit, she fills her luggage with books, and one of the books was covering the work of Basquiat.
The music composed by Jozef van Wissem & Sqürl was hypnotic and nothing short of lovely. A perfect fit to a hypnotic and lovely film.
Vampirism is often romanticized, but in a way that comes off as cheesy or tired, Only Lovers Left Alive is the first vampire film that, for me, actually exudes romance and love.
In the end, it's as simple as the fact that both Adam and Eve have only one friend each, and once Ian and Marlowe are out of the picture, then, well, there's only lovers left alive.
★★★★½ review by Jonathan White on Letterboxd
TIFF 2013 – film #3
Reason for pick: director Jim Jarmusch, Tilda Swinton, my wife’s love of all things Vampire.
It was a rainy day. Literally. Standing in line at the Bloor Cinema with the clouds wide open was really starting to affect my normally bright and cheery mood. Granted, this was a Jim Jarmusch film, but I really only know him by reputation, as I’d only seen Down by Law, and Broken Flowers. There was the Tilda Swinton factor. Love her. I couldn’t think of a bad film she was in until our friend Len reminded me of I Am Love. Hated that one. The real reason I’m here, standing in the rain, is my wife’s love of Vampire films. I don’t really feel that love.
For some, inexplicable to me, reason, the public seems to have an insatiable appetite for all things un-dead. As a result, the genre has been done to death ( or is it un-death ). Even Neil Jordan’s Byzantium, which was our last year’s TIFF vampire film, wasn’t exactly a re-invention. I couldn’t imagine anything under the moon that hasn’t already been done and said here. Wow, was I wrong.
Right from the get-go I was captivated. Jarmusch’s spinning descent into the lairs and lives of Adam and Eve evoked goosebumps. That’s never happened before. While Goth is nothing new with this set, the nouveau steampunk ( I’m sure there’s a correct ***punk definition, but I’m so out of date ) decor of Adams abode, contrasted with the Tangierian trappings of Eve’s, deliciously reflected (without a mirror) our protagonists timelessness and weary existence.
While this was the bait, what really hooked me was Eve’s first evening stroll through the Moroccan streets on her grocery run. What grace in motion, transcendental elegance, and confidence; qualities that can only be gained through centuries of experience without the burden of age. Even with her khimar, Swinton relates everything about Eve with just the flashes of her eyes. The darting telegraphing not fear, anxiety, or paranoia, but simply awareness and watchfulness. All without a word.
A continent away, Tom Hiddleston’s Adam sits alone in the desolate shell of a house in a long abandoned neighbourhood of Detroit. Once great, now in ruins, it is the expression of Adam’s soul. He lives now only for his music which he jealously guards. Yet, he lets some of it seep out into the land of Zombies .. those folks who are not ‘others’. This is to ‘put it out there’, to hear the reflections. The Zombies consume these melancholy strains with a voracious appetite, perhaps because it reflects their own sadness with their degenerating state.
Everything about Only Lovers Left Alive is steeped in an atmosphere of knowing, and it’s attendant sadness, reflection, and with the case of Eve, some hopefulness. That is, until it isn’t. Jarmusch’s master stroke is the comedic interjection of real life, everyday, problems our couple has to deal with. Everything from booking airline travel, to dealing with in-laws. Rather than jarring, these interjections are positively refreshing, and provide a perfect counterbalance to keep the film from getting too morose. The humor isn’t dark, it’s actually quite plain, which makes it all the funnier. What’s amazing is that it doesn’t detract from our feelings for the characters in the slightest. If anything, it makes Adam and Eve relatable rather than pitiable. Literary, musical, and scientific references abound which provide additional smiles without coming off as self-satisfied.
John Hurt, as Adam and Eve’s long long long time friend Marlowe, Mia Wasikolska as Ava, Eve’s sister, and Anton Yelchin as Adam’s Zombie contact with the outside world deserve praise as well. Each perfect for their roles; secondary characters expertly and lovingly crafted by Jarmusch.
I haven’t been turned, but I wouldn’t mind spending another night or two chillin’ with Adam and Eve.
I loved this film.
★★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
welp, i guess i have a new favorite Jarmusch movie.
★★★★½ review by Esteban Gonzalez on Letterboxd
“How could you have lived so long and still not get it?”
Jim Jarmusch brings a fresh spin to the very familiar vampire tale and delivers a solid and unique film that is unlike any other from the genre. Only Lovers Left Alive will stand alone considering it lacks the horror and action elements that the classic vampire films always introduce, and it also avoids the romantic cliches as well. It is an existential vampire film where you have two very distinct characters. On the one hand there is Tom Hiddleston’s character who has been around for centuries and is living in Detroit along with his growing music collection. He has grown weary with the way humans (or as he calls them: zombies) are living and has this nostalgic sense of the past, which explains why he collects several instruments from the early 1900’s. He seems to be depressed and simply disillusioned towards the modern world. On the other hand, his wife played by Tilda Swinton is living in Tangier, and she continues to enjoy the basic things in life. She loves to read and seems to have adapted well to the new world. When she realizes that her husband is getting depressed she decides to travel to Detroit to see if she can cheer him up. Most of the film focuses on Hiddleston’s existential crisis and serves as an excuse for Jarmusch to talk about art and culture. Many people might find this pretentious, but it works because you are reminded that these characters have been living for centuries and have actually met some of these artists and scientists they are referring to. The way in which Jarmusch builds these characters is also fascinating. The idea of the vampires having this sort of rockstar look to them is great and the way they seem to get high when they drink blood was also a very clever touch. There is no action here because these vampires aren’t feeding off people, they simply have their resources for buying blood.
It’s the small moments that work extremely well in the film and the performances are fantastic. Hiddleston and Swinton are perfectly cast for their roles and both share an incredible chemistry on screen. They’ve been together for centuries so there is no tension in the relationship and they read each other perfectly. However when Swinton’s smaller sister (Played by Mia Wasikowska) shows up things begin to get interesting. Wasikowska is also great in this film and she does a convincing job playing this immature and pain in the neck little sister. There are also some strong supporting performances from John Hurt and Anton Yelchin. The cast is excellent in the film and with the strong script they all shine in this unique indie movie. I went into it knowing almost nothing about the film and I think it is the best way to approach it because the world created by Jarmusch is quite interesting. I had heard a lot about the director, but this was the first time I actually saw a film of his and I’m surprised I enjoyed it so much because I don’t consider myself a fan of the genre and I do tend to find existential films pretentious at times, but here it works. It is very elegant, cool, and stylish.
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