Review – Only Lovers Left Alive

After testing the limits of our patience with the languorous The Limits Of Control, Jim Jarmusch has returned to his ironically idiosyncratic best by unashamedly injecting some arthouse into the well-worn vampire flick.

This year has seen plenty of highlights in the world of film; the return to form of Jim Jarmusch is one of the most welcome

This year has seen plenty of highlights in the world of film; the return to form of Jim Jarmusch is one of the most welcome

There really isn’t anyone out there who does what Jarmusch does and for that reason alone his status as life ambassador for effortlessly cool American independent cinema is assured.

There have been some misses, for sure. The Limits Of Control (2009) disappeared up itself and Night On Earth (1991) never quite got going, but set against such fare as his breakout Stranger Than Paradise (1984), the wonderful Dead Man (1995) and hugely atmospheric Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai (1999), Jarmusch’s filmography remains one to be reckoned with.

The effortlessly cool Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) in Only Lovers Left Alive

The effortlessly cool Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) in Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive finds the candy floss-haired writer/director in a rich vein (sorry) of form and leaves you wondering why he hasn’t done a vampire movie before now. As ubiquitous as this sub-genre has become, there is still plenty of room for exploration and Jarmusch casts a melancholic glance at an America that no longer exists.

Instead of chucking in werewolves or getting bogged down in tedious vampiric lore, the film’s central bloodsuckers Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) have a loving warmth that belies the fact they’ve been effectively ‘dead’ for centuries.

Playwright Christoper Marlowe (John Hurt), looking good for 600 (or so)  in Only Lovers Left Alive

Playwright Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), looking good for 600 (or so) in Only Lovers Left Alive

In spite of being on the planet for so many years, Eve still sees wonder in the world as she walks the streets of Tangier and sources “the good stuff” from her old friend, the English playwright Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), who has been sitting on a secret anti-Shakespeare conspiracy theorists would love.

Adam, meanwhile, is very much a glass half empty vampire and finds his only solace in vintage instruments and sound equipment, which he acquires from the eager-to-please Ian (Anton Yelchin). Adam purchases his O-Negative from Dr Watson (Jeffrey Wright), who refers to his vampire customer as Dr Faust (in a cute nod to Marlowe’s most famous play).

Eve (Tilda Swinton) enjoys a blood lolly in Only Lovers Left Alive

Eve (Tilda Swinton) enjoys a blood lolly in Only Lovers Left Alive

Adam lives in the industrial wastelands of Detroit and, unlike most vampires, steers clear of “zombies” (humans) whom he scolds for allowing the world to go to rack and ruin and infecting their blood with chemicals. A visit from Eve also soon brings with it an unwelcome stopover from Eve’s annoying sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska).

The relationship between Adam and Eve is beautifully handled by Hiddleston and Swinton (looking amazing for her age; maybe she went method for the role), who exude a otherwordly detachment from the world, whilst the love their characters share is exquisitely human. In spite of having been together for hundreds of years, they can still surprise each other with previously unheard stories and fresh observations (a mutual appreciation of musician Jack White being one of the more amusing ones).

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) acquires another vintage guitar from Ian (Anton Yelchin) in Only Lovers Left Alive

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) acquires another vintage guitar from Ian (Anton Yelchin) in Only Lovers Left Alive

Rather than being seen as mere nourishment, the vampires imbibe on the O-Neg as a junkie would their latest fix; falling into a bliss state not dissimilar to that shown in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting. It’s not a particularly original approach – Abel Ferrara’s under-appreciated The Addiction explored the same metaphor back in 1995 – but like so much else about Only Lovers Left Alive, its askew view keeps it refreshing.

Yorick Le Saux’s silky cinematography (the camera’s circular motion can be interpreted in several ways) and use of space is particularly striking and lends the film an artful grace, while Jarmusch’s uncompromising script may slip into bouts of self-aware pretension when name-checking the likes of inventor Nikola Tesla and composers Franz Schubert and Franz Liszt (whom we learn Adam gave music to back in the day, apparently), but manages to get away with it.

This year has seen plenty of highlights in the world of film; the return to form of Jim Jarmusch is one of the most welcome.

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29 comments

  1. Mark Walker · November 6, 2014

    Fine, fine work here, Mark. I’m a big fan of Jarmusch. I was one of the few who even greatly enjoyed The Limits of control.

    This sounds fantastic and definitely on my too see list. Still to see Stranger Than Paradise as well. But so far (and being a massive Tom Waits fan) my favourite of his is Down By Law.

    • Three Rows Back · November 6, 2014

      Cheers Mark! The Limits of Control drove me a bit mad if I’m honest. If you’re a Tom Waits fan you need to be watching Down by Law my friend!

      • Mark Walker · November 6, 2014

        No, no! I’ve seen Down By Law. I absolutely love it. Brilliant film. It’s Stranger Than Paradise that I’ve not seen. I do have a copy though, so I’ll get around to that when I can.

      • Three Rows Back · November 6, 2014

        Sorry!

      • Three Rows Back · November 6, 2014

        Brain relapse…

      • Mark Walker · November 6, 2014

        Haha! I have many of them several times a day, man. It’s age, I think 😉

  2. le0pard13 · November 6, 2014

    On my must-see list!

    • Three Rows Back · November 6, 2014

      So many films, so little time…

      • ruth · November 6, 2014

        Ditto what Michael said. I’ve only seen one Jarmusch film (Broken Flowers) which I quite like, so I’d imagine I’d appreciate this too, esp w/ Tilda & Hiddles!

      • Tom · November 7, 2014

        Teehee. . . . “Tilda-Hiddles” ought to become a word.

  3. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop · November 6, 2014

    Top review mate! I really liked this, the mood of the whole thing is fantastic and Tilda Swinton is just great. It is painfully slow at times but I guess that’s Jarmusch for you. In a way I left a little frustrated that I didn’t know more about the characters, I wanted to learn all about their history.

    • Three Rows Back · November 19, 2014

      Thank you kind sir! Swinton’s great isn’t she and man she looks good for a lady in her mid 50s. If you don’t like Jarmusch, in all honesty, you probably won’t like this too much, but it worked for me!

  4. Robert · November 7, 2014

    One of my favorites of the year.

    • Three Rows Back · November 19, 2014

      Glad to hear it Rob. Probably not quite top 10 but close.

  5. CMrok93 · November 7, 2014

    I don’t usually like Jarmusch movies, but this one actually worked for me. It was calm, slow, and very character-detailed. In a way I wasn’t expecting. Good review.

    • Three Rows Back · November 19, 2014

      Cheers Dan. I’m possibly a bigger fan of Jim than yourself and this was one of his finest hours.

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  7. Tom · November 7, 2014

    You know what man, I can’t make up my mind about whether or not I should see this film. (Nothing against your consistently excellent review of course!!) There’s just something about this movie that seems. . . .and I guess you do go ahead and mention it, which is nice to see is actually more noticeable than I once thought. . . . I don’t know, sort of pretentious. I’m not sure if that’s the right word or not, but man. I like Tom Hiddleston a ton and I haven’t given Tilda Swinton enough of a shot yet. Think the only thing I’ve seen her in thus far is Moonrise Kingdom. .. .how’s that for random! haha. Cheers sir.

    • Three Rows Back · November 19, 2014

      Sorry for the late reply Tom. Do it mate! Watch it! It has a sheen of pretention but scratch under the surface and there’s enough going on to make it genuinely intriguing experience. You need to watch more Swinton movies by the way. She’s good in Michael Clayton and I Am Love is really good.

  8. Wendell · November 7, 2014

    Nice review. I’m part of small minority, it seems, that just couldn’t get into this. Yes, it was artsy and metaphoric, and the acting was terrific, but it was so dreadfully slow and uneventful I was bored to tears. It didn’t help that I didn’t particularly like any of the characters and the only one with any spunk, Ava, came and went rather suddenly. Still, I’m willing to concede that this just wasn’t for me.

    • Three Rows Back · November 19, 2014

      Ta! I can see why people wouldn’t take to this. It’s one of those Marmite movies I guess. Love it or hate it.

  9. Movie Quibble · November 7, 2014

    Best vampire film since The Interview With a..
    Great review too.

    • Three Rows Back · November 19, 2014

      Cheers! It’s probably the most distinctive vampire film in the last 10-15 years. Have you seen The Addiction? Great movie.

  10. Lights Camera Reaction · November 14, 2014

    Nice review! I didn’t like it as much as you, but it was still enjoyable. It is an interesting film that brings up some relevant philosophical issues about life and the kind of world we live in.

    • Three Rows Back · November 16, 2014

      It most certainly does. I can quite understand why people would not take to this or only be lukewarm. One of those movies.

  11. Victor De Leon · November 21, 2014

    Can’t wait to get around to this one. Heard so many good things. Nice write up and I will move this bad boy up on my “to watch” list” Thanks!

    • Three Rows Back · November 22, 2014

      Like Frank, try to catch this before 2014’s up. It’s great really. Thanks for checking out my reviews Vic.

  12. Ashley · December 7, 2014

    Well written, never heard of it before but thanks for revealing it. I just love these kinds of movies like dark atmosphere, horror etc. Now i am going to download it and watch it tonight. Excited….

    • Three Rows Back · December 8, 2014

      Very happy to shine a light on a movie that I think deserves attention. Good man, hope you enjoy(ed) it. Let me know what you thought.

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