Only Lovers Left Alive

When an artist like Jim Jarmusch tackles a love story between two vampires starring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton you know several things from the outset. We’re not going to be seeing anything less than transcendent performances, a philosophical sophistication in the narrative, and ethereal visuals, but I wasn’t expecting how those elements could bring blood sucking immortals back from the day walking, sparkling brink of cinematic extinction.

Vampires Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton) have been connected for centuries. While Adam finds solace on the outskirts of modern Detroit creating anonymous music and acquiring rare vintage guitars (with the assistance of a paid helper Ian [Anton Yelchin]). Eve is on the other side of the globe in Tangier absorbing literature and the vibrancy of Afro/Arabic culture, occasionally reminiscing with long-time friend and author Marlowe (John Hurt). Adam is at a crossroads in his immortal life, sensing his turmoil Eve makes her way to her beloved.

Hiddleston is as cool as is (in)humanly possible as the tortured rock star, so wholly devoted to firstly, music, science and poetry, explained in references that he had firm friendships with Romantic poets such as Byron and Shelley. In a dilapidated stately Victorian home on the outskirts of Detroit Adam has created half a punk rock recording studio half rock shrine of guitars, it’s a controlled chaos. And despite it’s onward lack of organisation, Adam has used Nicola Tesla inspired technology to take his house off of the grind running on atmospheric electricity. On a superficial level Adam seems one dimensional, that is until the years, the frustrating torture of the rotting zombified 21st century in all its hypocrisy pours out his soul as he’s conversing with his beloved Eve.

Conversely Eve is purposeful, stylish and has a wraith like grace and light that balances his wallowing dark. Swinton glows as she inhales literature, obsessed with absorbing narrative form all over the world and insists upon staying close to the ancient Marlowe (a writer responsible for the entire works of Shakespeare and more we’re told) for the little community that their kind can afford. She’s luminescent, positive, Swinton plays Eve having risen above the despair, refusing to dwell on the detritus hopeful about all the world has had and may have to offer.

Jarmusch’s wonderful dramatic conceit is that these vampires have to take care with the blood they consume. Humanity, once a smörgåsbord, has been steadily poisoning their blood making it harder to feed. Care must be taken, human doctors like Jeffrey Wright’s inquisitive Dr. Watson are paid handsomely for premium unblemished blood. Jarmusch conceives feeding as an intoxicating experience. One small mouthful and we’re taken on their free-fall. Jarmusch too injects chaos into Adam and Eve’s lives with the arrival of Mia Wasikowska’s Ava, the kind of vapid typhoon that’s old enough to know how to better live in the world and yet doesn’t. She’s loved dearly by Eve but it’s Adam’s venomous exchanges in the wake of her carelessness that the audience gets to share a cathartic moment with the characters.

Every single interaction is just sublime. Jarmusch has brought back an anonymity to the vampire which is essential in authenticating the casual references to past schools of thought, reverence of great geniuses that were slighted by history, like Tesla, or denial of artists who had somewhat divine intervention by an immortal donating their work, like that charlatan Shakespeare. It’s a tool that seems so essential to their characters and yet feels so under-explored in a vast majority of vampire texts.

The drone score from Jozef Van Wissem and SQÜRL assaults your head with flanged guitars and reverb that’s a perfectly believable singular musical voice for Adam as well as forming the understated atmospheric texturing the locations. Detroit is dark and hollow, littered with decomposing husks that used to be vibrant homes. Abandoned factories with acid coursing through their bowels make for convenient locations to dispose of unwanted waste or unplanned victims. While Tangier feels like an alien landscape, curved like a hive with pockets of ominous glowing eyes probing passers by.

Only Lovers Left Alive is the kind of film that continues to linger in my consciousness. Revisiting the score, over and again, images return again and again. There’s not a wasted second, no imperfectly conceived moments. Like the characters, it feels eternal. 

-BLAKE HOWARD, GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION

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