To review Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) two irrefutable facts need to be stated:
- Writer-director Jim Jarmusch makes seriously strange movies
- I would make a long journey over difficult terrain if I knew Tilda Swinton awaited me
This is a vampire movie with a difference. Jarmusch makes much of vampire immortality and in their respective personifications the vampire leads have all been famous people in history.
Eve (Swinton) lives in Tangier where she has a steady supply of uncontaminated blood supplied by Kit (John Hurt). Eve’s husband Adam (Tom Hiddleston) lives in Detroit. He buys his blood from a corrupt doctor at the city’s hospital.
The longest-running joke in the film is that Hurt is Christopher Marlowe and Jarmusch amplifies the conspiracy theories that he wrote all Shakespeare’s material.
Marlowe is a very old man but Hurt looks only slightly different from the long-time prisoner he played in Midnight Express (1978).
I did not recognise Hiddleston from his portrayal of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Midnight In Paris (2011). Younger movie fans will know him as the evil Loki in The Avengers (2012) and the recent Thor films.
Swinton looks like herself and her pallid complexion fits the right mood for a cold-blooded vampire who can only travel by night, something she does to rejoin Adam when he seems chronically depressed. Eve knows more than Wikipedia on nearly every subject and her dialogue goes to being a cultural lesson as well as entertaining script.
Adam lives in a derelict mansion in an abandoned part of the motor city. His reunion with Eve is sweet until soured by the arrival of Ava (Mia Wasikowska), Eve’s younger sister.
Jarmusch scripts are mostly played out at night and often tell the adventures of travellers after midnight. In Only Lovers Left Alive the vampire legend provides a perfect vehicle for this. Many shots of dilapidated Detroit as seen from Adam’s Jaguar recall many of the director’s best films – most notably Mystery Train (1989). A haunting soundtrack – another Jarmusch specialty – accompanies the scenes.
The main characters’ reliance on blood as their food provides a metaphor for drug use and instances like Ava wanting to know where Adam hides his supply; all the vampires discussing their next fix; users being supplied by professionals (a doctor in Detroit, French chemist in Tangier) highlight this.
It also allows Jarmusch to get in some digs about what is currently happening on earth or his own view of what may happen. The vampires refer to the rest of the population as ‘zombies’; the ‘oil wars’ and ‘water wars’ get a mention; contamination of blood is a major concern; Eve predicts Detroit will flourish again but the Deep South will burn. The ‘zombies’ have basically ruined everything.
Hiddleston is hauntingly handsome as Adam, reminding of Johnny Depp in Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995). In fact, I thought Depp had appeared in several Jarmusch films but this was the only one.
Adam is a creative musician whose heroes are displayed in framed black and white photographs on his living room wall.
My guess is these are Jarmusch’s heroes and the one photo in colour is of Neil Young, subject of the director’s documentary Year of the Horse (1997) where his cameras tracked the singer and his band Crazy Horse on tour.
While mentioning tracked I was surprised to learn that Wasikowska plays Robyn Davidson in Tracks (2013) and the title role in Jane Eyre (2011).
Swinton needs no such illumination. Breathtaking.
“The beauty of life is in small details, not in big events.” Jim Jarmusch