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Review: Only Lovers Left Alive


About: Only Lovers Left Alive is a 2013 British-German romantic drama vampire film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, starring Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, and Jeffrey Wright. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

Hmmm. I have seen pretty much every vampire-themed film and television show, My bible was ‘The Vampire Chronicle’ books by Anne Rice. So yeah, I’m kind of a vampire expert if I do say so. There is a darkness or alternative feel to most good vampire fiction. To me the Swedish vampire film ‘Let the Right One In’ (2008) was the best followed by ‘The Hunger (1983).’

This film is very good, there is a blending of art, beauty and music: Yes, another vampire movie. But Mr. Jarmusch is not Stephenie Meyer, Ms. Swinton is not Kristen Stewart, and, despite its title, ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ is less about sex than about art. Vampirism, in other words, serves in this film as a metaphor not for insatiable desire (as it has, to different effect, in the “Twilight” movies and the HBO series “True Blood”), but for passionate creativity. Mr. Jarmusch imagines the tribe of the blood-consuming undead as a kind of aesthetic aristocracy, counting in their ranks most of the world’s geniuses of painting, fiction, cinema and music. Byron and Shelley are name-checked, a careful selection of books (including “Don Quixote” and“Infinite Jest”) are packed into Eve’s suitcases, and Adam’s walls are hung with portraits of Buster Keaton, Mark Twain, Robert Johnson and others.

Plot: Set against the romantic desolation of Detroit and Tangier, an underground musician, deeply depressed by the direction of human activities, reunites with his resilient and enigmatic lover. Their love story has already endured several centuries at least, but their debauched idyll is soon disrupted by her wild and uncontrollable younger sister. Can these wise but fragile outsiders continue to survive as the modern world collapses around them?

Someone I saw the film with remarked upon the slow pace: When you live for hundreds of years without the inevitability of a natural end, there is no reason to hurry, and Mr. Jarmusch is a practiced hand at slow filmmaking. What sustains “Only Lovers Left Alive” is less a story than a sensibility, an attitude of nostalgic and somewhat cranky connoisseurship. Plots are for squares, which is not to say that nothing happens.

As I’ve said, the metaphors for the vampire are clear: Ideas such as eternal youth, beauty, strength and never ‘dying’ – in the sense of being gone forever are prominent. The vampire embodies the cultural desire for youth [creams, Botox, plastic surgery etc.] and strength [gyms] in addition to other things.

This film is chock full of metaphors and names borrowed from literary fiction and elsewhere: One of Eve’s passports has her name as Daisy Buchanan. The Great Gatsby reference is not lost on me. The literary allusions are plentiful. Watson is the name of a doctor. Adam calls himself Dr. Faust when obtaining a blood supply from a hospital. The actual Christopher Marlowe is a close friend of our leads and there is talk of Shakespeare. There are biblical references – our leads are called Adam and Eve… There are scientist references and Adam makes a Quantum Theory analogy, there are musician references etc.

Adam and Eve are not the type to go out and bite necks: They purchase their nutrition from medical professionals (including one played by Jeffrey Wright) and drink it from long-stemmed, shapely goblets. But the film does not hesitate to make another familiar metaphorical link — one between vampirism and addiction. After these vampires taste blood, their heads roll back and the room starts to spin. And when supplies dwindle, things grow desperate in a hurry. It is also clear that not everyone manages the habit as well as Adam and Eve, as demonstrated when Eve’s wild sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), shows up for a visit.

The soundtrack is incredible. This is by far, the most original mixture of film music I have ever heard. Yes, EVER. We have goth, classic rock, middle-eastern music, classical, jazz etc:The brooding NYC rock outfit SQÜRL, (Jim Jarmusch, Carter Logan and Shane Stoneback) have created an epic score in collaboration with Dutch composer Jozef Van Wissem of stoner riffs, minimal orchestration and haunting vocals, courtesy of guest appearences from Zola Jesus, Yasmine Hamdan and Madeline Follin of Cults. It pulses with vigour and romance, much like Jarmusch’s film itself.

What’s wonderful here is a tapestry or aesthetic … a blend of high art, music, sensibility and fragility. Immortality is very uncertain here and an appreciation for beauty is like breath on a spider-web.


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