Ever since Twilight was released in 2008, vampires have made an unexpected resurgence in mainstream popularity. Many would also argue that it was ultimately for the worst, since general moviegoers as well as vampire fans had very little good to say about that revitalization. And the booming of the subgenre with successes (and failures) like Fright Night, Daybreakers, Let Me In, Priest, The Moth Diaries, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Dark Shadows, Vampire Academy and Byzantium shows that vampires are going to be here for a while. However, that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Every now and then, there will be a filmmaker with a unique vision that might be able to put a unique and interesting spin on the subject matter, which brings us to famous indie director, Jim Jarmusch’s latest project, Only Lovers Left Alive.
Only Lovers Left Alive follows two married vampires who have been around for centuries, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton). Subtle, I know; I think I even saw Eve using an iPhone. Adam has spent his time influencing the progression of music and science, but is now a reclusive musician experimenting with various equipment and instruments. He also takes up a lot of time brooding and moping about the current state of the world and people in general, whom he refers to as “zombies.” Eve is more wide-eyed and free-spirited, spending most of her time engaging in culture and reading through countless books at an incredible speed.
In terms of plot, the film is very light. Adam contemplates suicide, Eve convinces him otherwise and she goes to his home in Detroit (since she’s spent the last several years living in Tangier). They talk, do stuff, talk some more, get visited by Eve’s younger sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), some things happen, and a couple more things happen, nothing really worth having to summarize. Though, this may seem like a fault for the film, it is more than made up by the rich and complex characters. I already mentioned the whole Adam and Eve aspect, but there are other interesting ways to look at these characters. In one aspect, they are essentially a yin to the other’s yang. Adam’s dark, wears black, and spends his time creating. Eve’s more sensitive, wears white and spends her time consuming. Even certain visual cues and poses done by the characters vaguely resemble the yin-yang symbol, especially when they are leaning into each other. The symbol of the yin-yang is also a circle, which is the first image seen in the film when a record begins playing, representing how the characters, essentially immortals, are constantly going in circles. One could also look at the film as a love letter to the value of art, which is demonstrated by the fact that these two characters who have been living for a very long time, don’t take about things like politics, but art, which is what their lives are practically revolving around, and what makes this more effective is the occasional blurring of our history and the film’s fictionalized world. Now, I don’t want to spend too much time analyzing the film, since I think there is a lot substance for people to sink their teeth into.
Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are perfectly cast and their acting is absolutely flawless. They make these characters completely their own, and they work together unbelievably well. Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, John Hurt and Jeffrey Wright are all great with relatively small roles, creating a lasting impression that keeps them in your mind, even with short screen times.
Jim Jarmusch created a moody, but gorgeous atmosphere, captured astonishingly by cinematographer, Yorick Le Saux. Each shot feels meticulously thought out with nice attention to detail that speaks a great deal about the characters without being in your face. The design of Adam’s home is fantastic; creating a cluttered and claustrophobic environment full of various types of recording equipment, but despite the messiness it is stunning to look at. The music by Jozef van Wissem suits the film very well and it’s a soundtrack that is definitely worth listening on its own.
The only things that I saw as problems are really just taste issues. The film moves at a slow pace, and the lack of a plot might test the patience of some. I just have one minor problem with ending. The ending, in and of itself, is fine, but I think the event that led to the ending was a bit rushed and (without giving anything away) felt like it was a situation that Adam and Eve should have planned for, considering how long they have been around. But that’s just a minor issue for me. I liked pretty much everything else about the film, and it really shouldn’t disappoint any fan of Jim Jarmusch, but for anyone not familiar with his style should maybe think twice.
Only Lovers Left Alive is a personal, moody, poetic and often funny examination of two old souls and their place in the modern world. It makes up for its lack of plot with two amazing characters that are deep, complex and worth exploring, thanks to Jim Jarmusch’s excellent screenplay and the phenomenal performances by its two leads. It’s the kind of film Jim Jarmusch hasn’t made since Dead Man, and it’s nice to see a film as unique as this. It’s certainly not for everybody, but for those who are into this type of film, will get a lot out of it. People into vampires should also rejoice in that they finally get a vampire film that is by all accounts the best one in a very long time.
Side Note: Speaking of vampires, there is one other vampire film coming out in 2014, focusing not just on any vampire, but Dracula himself. Dracula Untold is supposedly an origin story of sorts for the character starring Luke Evans as Vlad III. Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, both of whom are not involved in the production of Dracula Untold, are producers for the reboots of The Mummy and Van Helsing, which they have hinted at being part of a shared Universal Monsters universe, similarly to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Despite them not being involved, it would make sense for the new Dracula film to take part in the universe as well, especially since they are all distributed by Universal Pictures. We’ll see if it pays off the way it did for Marvel, it definitely has the potential. Dracula Untold is set for an October 17, 2014 release.