As if he’s F.W, Murnau on crack, Jim Jarmusch can’t get over himself, only now it’s forever! As with his best movies, Stranger Than Paradise (1983), Down By Law (1985), Mystery Train (1988) and Dead Man (1995), Jarmusch’s vampire romance Only Lovers Left Alive is a very catchy mood cha-cha with some lovely layered and multi-toned effects. A wacky, eerie nocturne that makes more of the time it takes to make a good marriage, even for vampires, than biting into folks’ jugulars. As is usual with Jarmusch, the film is filled with cute little surprises but nothing at all like a payoff. Did someone mention 800 years?
A true-blue US indie pioneer, Jarmuschl has been so auto-obsessed with his uniquely laconic blend of cinematic cool hipsterism for 31+ years now; so long that he seems as ageless as the blood-sipping characters in his latest film. You thought there was nothing new to add to the vampire genre? Well, there isn’t. Not really! What we do get is Jarmusch’s usual mishigas: toadstools, Albert Einstein, chemistry and physics, vintage guitars and 45s.
Anyway, hiding out in self-enforced obscurity in a fixed-up old house in a fixer-upper neighborhood in Detroit is Adam (Tom Hiddleston), a sort of Greta Garbo among vampires. Doted upon by some of kind of roadie/personal shopper, Ian (Anton Yelchin), Adam plays old 45 singles and cuts a very Johnny Thunders-type figure when he poses with his collectable vintage guitar collection.
Parallel to that we see Eve (Tilda Swinton) finding the playwright Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) on the streets of Algiers. There are strange, cryptic allusions to William Shakespeare, but… whatever. It’s all a mere bagatelle. Marlowe owns access to “the good stuff”— an engineered ‘purified’ blood that vampires must have because stupid, stupid zombies, a/k/a humans, have contaminated their own blood supply.
Yorrick LaSaux — who has the perfect name for a cinematographer — has done some extraordinary work. The music is deftly moving throughout. Jarmusch’s very own band SQÜRL did the score. It’s all really very keenly attuned to Jarmusch’s oeuvre, to be sure, especially a fever-pitched sexual bit of Lebanese dance music by Yasmine Hamdan. The 800-year love affair between Adam and Eve is filtered through a sort of OCS syndrome that pays tribute to True Blood, Anne Rice and the awful Twilight in the way the Gallagher brothers auto-obsess on the Beatles Strawberry Fields-period Yet, the fantastic rotating overhead vampire POV shots make you bilious. They really are beautiful, but a bit nauseating. Jarmusch, of course, knows Vampire stories come a dime a dozen in this era of True Blood. Yet white trash this lot is not. Somehow, however, all and sundry are superbly coiffed and couture-d. Sophistication seems to be de rigeur for a bloodsucker just to live in their world.
The green-eyed vampire looms even more powerfully than the yellow-eyed, clubbing one. Eve’s petty little younger sister, Ava, considers them to be a pair of degenerate, condescending snobs enslaved to “the good stuff.” Indeed, not only do they have to cultivate Marlowe, but there’s also that alternative second fiddle in Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright).
Meanwhile, naughty Ava (Mia Wasikowska) so disrupts their trendy, bourgeois ways that they split for Tangier, where they think Eve can count on a continued supply of good stuff. Tangier, the flaming hipster-beatnik’s boy toy paradise with a Mohammedan boy brothel Disney-theme gets its trendy tip of the hat for just being so beloved of Paul Bowles and Allen Ginsberg. I won’t be a spoiler, but the couple has to rethink things and act in a way that’s anathema to their existence before the show is over.
The obscenely pale Tilda Swinton was born for this part. She’s really quite accessible here with her platinum tresses and gives a very emotional performance. Hiddleston, with his subdued hippie longhair metal-star persona, is a vampire trapped in the repetitious trope of his own character and conducts himself perfectly. Wasikowska is suitably goofy, Yelchin movingly sweet and John Hurt seems more like a wise old Yoda than any Marlowe. Definitely worth a trip to the theater over waiting for the DVD!