Just as he did with the Samurai genre in 1999’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, writer/ director Jim Jarmusch brings a new perspective to the vampire movie, injecting a fresh burst of life into a genre that’s become pallid and toothless. Together with Neil Marshall’s recent Byzantium, it effectively resurrects the vampire as an entirely adult anti-hero.
Just as in Byzantium, Only Lovers Left Alive deals with the challenges of being undead in the modern age through ancient, married vamps Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton). Upbeat and optimistic, Eve lives in sun-bleached Tangiers and finds endless joy in her vast library of books. Holed up in the decaying suburbs of Detroit, Adam is a morose figure who—with immortality having lost its appeal—is having increasingly dark thoughts. Eve travels to comfort him, but the arrival of her wayward sister Ava (Wasikowska) is the cause of yet more drama.
As with most of Jarmusch’s characters, the joy of Adam and Eve is that they are deliciously at odds with the society in which they live. There’s fun to be had watching them interact with the outside world; a sequence in a nightclub, which sees them hidden behind sunglasses and gloves, is awkwardly amusing. Indeed, there are neat little touches of whimsy throughout; these vamps don’t feast on disease-ridden humans, so deal in black market blood procured from hospitals which, at one point, Eve fashions into ice lollies. There’s also a great deal of spinning—of the camera, of records on a turntable—emblematic of the fact that Adam and Eve are the unmoving centre of a world that has been changing around them for hundreds of years.
That’s not to say that the film doesn’t drift into darker territory; Adam’s only human friend Ian (Yelchin) makes the grim discovery that Ava is not particularly adept at suppressing her animal instincts. For the most part, however, there is a lightness of tone; this is less a story about vampires and more the celebration of a great romance, of a love that holds strong across centuries of human carnage.
Fittingly, Only Lovers looks exquisite. Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux captures both the mysticism of Tangiers and the mouldering streets of Detroit; as much a reflection of the Ying and Yang nature of Adam and Eve’s relationship as their wardrobe choices, which are completely at odds but entirely complementary.
A film to beguile, Only Lovers brings together the very best elements of cinema—sparkling script, exceptional performances, stunning visuals, oh-so-perfect soundtrack—under the skilled and unique eye of Jarmusch. And, even though it may seem more style than substance, at its heart there lies an expertly crafted metaphor about the need to keep moving forwards, and the strength of true love to conquer all.
5 Stars – Nikki Baughan