REVIEW: Only Lovers Left Alive [2014]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 123 minutes | Release Date: February 21st, 2014 (UK)
Studio: Soda Pictures / Sony Pictures Classics
Director(s): Jim Jarmusch
Writer(s): Jim Jarmusch

“A diamond emitting the music of a giant gong”

In the age of Twilight its good to know an auteur like Jim Jarmusch can render contemporary vampires as the romantic ideals of immortality, wisdom, and survival any thought-provoking interpretation should. Gone is the CW brood from “The Vampire Diaries”, ostentatious displays of supernatural power courtesy of “True Blood”, and the heightened sexuality of all their bloodsucking quasi-porn sizzle. Replacing them is a dying breed of intellectual artists held over from centuries gone, men and women without interest in the current crop of zombified drones humanity has become in an age of piracy, ill-conceived transparency, and rewards far outweighing the tasks performed to earn them. Vampires remember what it meant to truly be alive while today’s generation of warm-blooded automatons sleepwalks aimlessly until told where to go next.

The undead are the fearful here: afraid to be found, afraid of the myriad substances mankind sees fit to poison their blood with, and afraid to go outside amongst the rabble they don’t deem worthy of a draining when hunger takes over. It’s a brilliant subversion of the genre wherein Jarmusch creates a love story of the mundane, transforming these revered monsters into recluses complete with insecurities, familial squabbles, and bouts of depression. If you were the dominate species and you had to live in silence while those around you fell prey to excess, self-destructing to the point where their purpose as sustenance is no longer viable, you’d want to stop the endless cycle too if only to save yourself from the frustration of watching the world you helped make beautiful become a hubristic and ignorant wasteland.

And what an appropriate title for them: Only Lovers Left Alive. We don’t know exactly how many vampires are left—perhaps the stereotypical genre iterations have died out from unsafe methods of feeding—and thus wonder if maybe the four we meet are it. They are the lovers, dreamers, and thinkers basking in the glow of past scientific exploits and literary/artistic genius published in books of old. They still hold an ideal of what it means to create something from nothing, not for the fame or acclaim success may bring but the sheer beauty its existence gives the world. They don’t trouble themselves with new technology (save an iPhone), deciding instead to stay grounded on earth so as not to go numb like the lemmings falling further from consciousness with every passing second to their own extinction.

But what does that leave them? Eve (Tilda Swinton) seems content passing her days in Tangiers with a library of brilliance collected from thinkers in all languages over millennia; Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) happy to take on a new lover (Slimane Dazi‘s Bilal) while scribbling texts on paper without a present-day William Shakespeare to serve as his wisdom’s face. They’ve settled into the solitary life away from the blood-filled vessels walking the streets and offering “exactly what they need” in dark alleyways, more interested in passing the days than interacting with their physical, spiritual, and intellectual inferiors. No, only Adam (Tom Hiddleston) remains tethered to humanity through his supplier of anything and everything his heart desires (Anton Yelchin‘s Ian). Still composing music he yearns to set free, his isolation pushes him to the brink of suicide.

Jarmusch has therefore crafted another of his deliberately paced documents of bohemian lifestyle with characters doing their best despite the age of stupidity they find themselves. He just decides to make them vampires, albeit ones caught in the malaise of existential crisis due to the chasm between surviving and living. They’d like to partake in the latter like their younger more unhinged sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), but husband and wife duo Adam and Eve know her way brings unnecessary danger. If the future means their partnership is all they’re allowed, so be it. Their love has endured and will continue. Unfortunately, however, they aren’t creatures of self-sufficient means where food is concerned. As mankind destroys itself so too is their demise written. Whether residing in Tangiers or Adam’s dilapidated Detroit, their supply of clean blood is never guaranteed.

The film turns their story into one of drug culture and fringe living, painting their creatures of the night as addicts looking for the next fix. Each needs the potency of uncut product to last the day, everything working towards acquiring it. The drug is both blood and creativity—Adam unable to live without an instrument to play and Eve a book to bask in its gorgeous construction of prose more immortal than she. Ava enters as a force of unpredictability; a person they feel a need to protect despite knowing killing her would save everyone a heap of trouble. Her wild card threatens their safety by creating a snowball effect they cannot foresee. Blood/drugs fuel creativity like always through centuries of music, literature, and art while also providing the last nail in their coffin if abused.

Hiddleston and Swinton are fantastic, fleshing out his indifference and her contentment with careful brushstrokes. They inject a humor through perfectly constructed line deliveries, he becoming unavoidably sarcastic and she infectiously electric despite both enjoying lazy mornings of sleep thanks to the warmth a shot of blood gives before bed. Strung-out and pale with wild hair making them seem perpetually crazed, they’re junkies to the layperson unequipped to acknowledge the existence of vampires or see the difference. They cannot stop their addiction nor honestly hope to control it with outside forces facilitating its acquisition. They can name-drop old friends like Byron and Tesla all they want, recalling a time of mutual understanding and enlightenment. But it means nothing today when our heroes are now vapid shells without a shred of purpose—romanticism replaced by reality TV, creation by death.

[1] Left to right: Tom Hiddleston as Adam and Tilda Swinton as Eve
Photo by Sandro Kopp, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
[2] Left to right: Tom Hiddleston as Adam and Anton Yelchin as Ian
Photo by Gordon A. Timpen, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
[3] Left to right: Mia Wasikowska as Ava and Anton Yelchin as Ian
Photo by Gordon A. Timpen, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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