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Jim Jarmusch returns with another all-star cast, this time to explore the enduring love of two vampires
This film has everything that I normally love, a quirky director, Tilda Swinton and some bad wigs, which is why for the first forty-five minutes I was perturbed to find Only Lovers Left Alive hard work. It’s slow. Time moves differently in this film as it would for the un-dead and it takes a while to adjust from our more frenetic, modern cinematic habits. However, once you get the tempo you are treated to a hypnotic subversion of gothic mythology, where, with the introduction of the enduring love of two-centuries-old vampires, the true psychological realism of eternal life is explored with intelligence and humour.
We meet Adam and Eve in Detroit and Tangiers respectively. We accept that given the force of their love and their longevity, it is not unusual for the couple to live separately from time to time. That their chosen homes are fallen cities, decaying remnants of glorious human civilisation is not accidental and forms the film’s central discussion. It is humanity’s continued failure that depresses Adam, how every age consumes itself to the brink of extinction; he refers to the living simply as “zombies”. Eve, fearful of Adam’s suicidal morosity, books a series of night flights to reinvigorate him in Detroit.
Their conjugal bliss and philosophical musings on humanity are quickly interrupted by Eve’s younger sister Eva, played by Mia Wasikowska, who does a wonderful turn as an eternally brattish and troublesome family member, and indeed it’s nice to see Wasikowska shine in a less restrained and corseted role. The ultimate annoying little sister who turns up every century or so and wreaks havoc on their lives, sets in motion again the cycle of destruction and rebirth which Adam seems to so fear.
As a cinematic couple Hiddleston and Swinton are delicious, rarely are two actors so equally matched in talent. Jarmusch’s lingering shots of the couples bodies comfortably entwined and sleeping make their centuries old passionate love, seem both homely and safe in the chaos of the world. Since the adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview With A Vampire allowed vampires to be sexy and complicated, it was of course not going to be long until the art house vampire emerged. Jarmuch’s existential offering is a delight, Adam as a vampire hipster is unaware of his own irony, shying away from fame; he prefers the coolness of the reclusive mysterious artist. He has been releasing music and collaborating with history’s geniuses throughout the centuries, lending Schubert a concerto here or there, and fraternising with romantic poets. He sees it as more important that art is out there than he claims any lasting fame. A theme reiterated by Eve’s friend Christopher Marlowe (a slightly miscast John hurt) It of course makes perfect sense that some great artists from history, who were able to achieve so much in their time, were in fact vampires, however, sadly these celebrity vampire cameos never quite live up to the legend of the historical figure.
Only Lovers Left alive is a rare gem in an often homogenised and exhausted genre, there are moments of deliciously dark humour typical of Jarmuch’s incisive ability as a screenwriter. He explores with empathy and wit the psychological realism of two deeply in love Vampire lovers facing the reality of eternal life together and all that would entail, and the survival and indeed the disappointment of a human race that is always falling short of its ability.