Joyce Glasser reviews Only Lovers Left Alive (February 21, 2014) Cert 15, 123 min.
One of the most influential mavericks of American independent cinema, Jim Jarmusch’s (Broken Flowers, Stranger than Paradise, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai) films might be uneven in quality and appeal, but they offer consistently original and intriguing takes on established genres. They are also unpredictable, and his 12th feature, Only Lovers Left Alive is no exception.
Only Lovers Left Alive imagines Adam and Eve as increasingly isolated vampires struggling to survive in today’s hostile environment. If the pace is slow and the plot negligible, the film will suck you into its distinctive atmosphere. Jarmusch builds a credible world where Tilda Swinton’s seductive Eve chats with her old pal Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) and can identify a guitar as a Gibson from 1905, just by running her fingers over it.
Though noticeable by her thick mane of white hair and pale skin, Eve (Tilda Swinton) is exceptional in a celebrity-conscious world for striving not to be noticed. She travels in comfortable-chic clothing between a pied-a-tierre in decadent Tangiers and her music-mad toy boy Adam’s (Tim Hiddleston) dark, rundown flat in the bankrupt city of Detroit. If you’re going to keep a low profile, these are the places to do so.
Adam and Eve keep their interaction with the outside world to a minimum. Marlowe, who survived the brawl in the Deptford pub and is living with his Moroccan male lover, supplies her with quality blood. Eve is Marlowe’s intellectual equal and it is inferred that he penned Shakespeare’s plays and others. In Detroit, Adam, disguised as a Dr Faust, pays a hospital doctor named Watson a premium for blood that is the equivalent of organic food. Too many friends have died from an indiscriminate reliance on the blood of strangers.
Like conventional vampires, Adam and Eve can only go out at night. They reminisce about better times. ‘How was Mary Wallstonecraft?” Eve asks, with a hint of jealousy, referring to the 18th century author and feminist who died after giving birth to the future Mary Shelly. ‘She was delicious,’ teases Adam. Adam takes Eve on midnight drives around Detroit, passing the house where Jack White was born. A 1920’s Michigan Theatre is now a car park. Adam feels the curse of immortality when even cities are dying around him.
Their dull but relatively safe routine is jeopardized when Eve’s wild younger sister (Mia Wasikowska) shows up wanting to party like other girls her age. When she invites Adam’s vintage guitar broker, Ian (Anton Yelchin), back to the house for ‘a drink’, alarm bells sound as it turns out to be the wrong kind.
We normally think of vampires as frightening predators living in remote Gothic piles, a stereotype that only partly reflects the reality of Adam and Eve. What we notice here is their modest, oppressive urban flat their concern about food their anti-social lifestyle and their vulnerability. Jarmusch is not entirely successful in turning this stylised mood piece into a metaphor about the environment and marginalized intellectuals. It takes their desperate flight into an insecure future for the audience to feel any real tension or compassion.
You can watch the film trailer here: