Since 1980, Jim Jarmusch has been churning out his own brand of independent cinema, resistant to selling out, or making any movies that might be targeted to mainstream audiences.
With his latest film, Only Lovers Left Alive, the whole thing kind of feels stale, as he takes the mainstream genre of vampires and mines the dreary, centuries-old love story that is mostly par for the course, and somehow makes Tom Hiddleston boring in the process. Tom Hiddleston is Adam, and Tilda Swinton is Eve, their names borrowed from (wait for it) Mark Twain’s final book The Diaries of Adam and Eve (and I think the Bible). Their names obviously lends themselves to the timelessness of their romance and lives, as they’ve been around for centuries.
When the film starts, they’re separated by an ocean and a couple continents. Adam is one of the few relics still around Detroit, consumed with his music and collecting rare guitars, aided by hipster Ian (Anton Yelchin, the only one who was allowed to have fun). Adam also orders a lone wooden bullet, so clearly he’s not too happy with his current situation. Don’t expect any resolution with that bullet. Eve is in Tangier, going to cafes and meeting up with Marlowe (the awesome John Hurt), another vampire. Marlowe is her connection for “good” blood, while Adam has an unspoken agreement with Dr. Watson (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’s Jeffrey Wright), as most human blood, like the Earth they populate, is contaminated these days. As such, they live a very frugal, independent existence, not the monster that will prey on humans after dark. At least not anymore.
Soon, Eve flies to see Adam, their loneliness getting the best of them, shaking up their listless, but effective routine to stay under the radar, and alive. Even when they’re together and “happy,” they mostly just take night drives through the beautifully desolate streets of Detroit, and talk about their old lives when they knew INSERT FAMOUS HISTORICAL FIGURE here, and how they influenced the greats.
Adam has been inspiring musicians for centuries, even supplying Schubert with some of his own work. Marlowe was Shakespeare and practically any other writer of repute. What was Eve? Their muse? Eve never gets much to do, besides being a soothing Mother or Lover figure, and surprisingly playing a vampire in a Jim Jarmusch movie is one of Tilda Swinton’s tamest performances I’ve seen from her. Adam, meanwhile, is an old-fashioned recluse, who bemoans his existence and that of the zombies that fester on the Earth (I very much liked that humans were referred to as zombies by vampires). He’s crabby, resistant to fun, or doing anything that might qualify as plot.
That all changes when Eve’s sister Ava (I still don’t know if Mia Wasikowska is a good actress or not) arrives to screw everything up. She sucks, but at the very least, things happen when she’s around, and we learn how precarious Adam and Eve’s lives really are, even after all these years of “living.”
Only Lovers Left Alive has moments of poignancy, and while Hiddleston and Swinton don’t share a passionate chemistry, you can see their shared history written on their faces and movements throughout. Hiddleston was born to play a rock star… but hopefully this isn’t that time. Mostly, the film just sort of exists, languid, tepid, in a way that makes you feel like it’s supposed to be inspiring and moving and “indie.” Instead of timeless, it feels dated, or like something we’ve already seen before. Of course, perhaps that’s the point, as Adam and Eve live out their vicious cycle, over and over again, refusing to succumb to serenity/death.
I don’t know how often I say this and actually mean it as a compliment, but my favorite aspect of Only Lovers Left Alive might’ve been its absorbing soundtrack. The soundtrack was created by Jozef Van Wissem (along with frequent collaborator Jarmusch and his band Sqürl), was superlative, perfectly justified in winning Best Original Soundtrack at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Wissem’s songs, sparsed together with eclectic choices like Wanda Jackson, Y.A.S and Lebanese luminary Yasmine Hamdan (she makes me tingly), that really encapsulate the dour and thoughtful mood of the film. I wish the rest of the film was as moving and interesting as its score.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” arrives in theaters on April 11th.
- Starring: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston
- Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
- Running Time: 123 minutes
- Genre: Drama, Horror, Romance