Only Lovers Left Alive [film review]

Only lovers left alive

[May contain spoilers]

A modern vampiric romance set against decaying Detroit streets with the odd Tangier alley-way thrown in for good measure, Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive succeeds because of the chemistry between it’s lead stars, Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston.

Playing a couple with a love that has lasted several centuries, Lovers sees Hiddleston’s Adam holed up in a Detroit mansion writing droning funeral rock music on antique guitars, while his wife, Eve (Swinton) lives in Tangier. We see both of them securing blood through underground measures not requiring the eating of living people, Adam from a doctor and Eve from a fellow aging vampire, a ghost writer of considerable success in a past time, Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt). Adam also has a friend in Detroit who secures him the antique guitars he plays, Ian (Anton Yelchin) and other black market things. The depressed Adam makes a call to Eve, and quickly convinces her to rejoin him in Detroit. After a brief period of romantic reunion, Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) arrives on their doorstep, shaking things up slightly.

The plot is not especially dense, but Jarmusch is more concerned with mood, as per his earlier films like Dead Man. The soundtrack is a highlight, matching the sombre visuals (all at night, hence the life of the vampire) with droning guitars and the occasional Moroccan instrumental. Jarmusch puts particular emphasis on making the vampire situations not overly staged, the plot refrains from big twists that might feature in a mainstream version of the same plot. The conversations between the key vampires are all pretty interesting and topical as well, with Adam and Eve both concerned with science, astrology, Einstein’s entanglement theory, toads and giant humming crystals in the sky to name a few. Adam has a love of antique instruments and Eve indulges his passion, thus anyone interested in classic guitars would probably get a kick from the references.

I’m by no means hugely schooled on Jarmusch’s filmography, having seen Mystery Train and Down By Law quite some time ago, but I feel the film stacks up against cult favourite Dead Man, being similarly hypnotic in pacing and detailed in scripting. The film is mostly appealing visually, though there is a few ugly shots here and there (some of the car perspective driving shots I felt looked out of place). The images of a decaying Detroit were particularly striking, and with never aging vampires set against this backdrop, Jarmusch seemed to be making a point about the finite nature of human existence. The humans of the film, referred to as zombies, are a kind that ignorant to their own decay, and the destruction of their civilization around them. All themes that were tackled without being heavy handed – and at the end of the day – ever lasting love is what prevails in this Gothic romantic tale.

Only lovers left alive

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