Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)

Dir. Jim Jarmusch

Vampires. Werewolves. Zombies. They are perhaps the monster trifecta of movies looking for some sort of metaphorical shorthand to the human condition (granted, the werewolf - possibly the most powerful of the metaphors in its depiction of what lies beneath the surface - has gone a bit out of favor since, really, it is a bit on-the-nose). Since their invention they’ve been more or less inescapable due to how easily the mere image them conjures up all kinds of instinctual meanings. Who knows when the trend began but in most cases, the vampire is more than happy to watch the world disintegrate around them, even manipulating or egging it on. Bless Jim Jarmusch for giving a reactionary, loving flip-side to the humanity of the vampire tale in his newest film, and funniest in a while, Only Lovers Left Alive.

These titular lovers are, um, naturally?, Adam and Eve. Played by Tom Hiddleston and the incandescent Tilda Swinton, they are a world weary couple - Eve a bit more optimistic about the way the world has unfolded than Adam who seems to have found a comfort in tucking himself away in a victorian house in the middle of dilapidated Detroit. Adam has developed a great knack for creating his own (Nikola Tesla inspired) electronic contraptions, whose cords weave throughout, brilliantly connecting old and new technology. He collects and plays guitars (music courtesy of Jarmusch’s own band, Squrl), drives around in the middle of the night to take in the sights and only interacts with Ian (Anton Yelchin, getting more versatile with every film), the “zombie” who procures the guitars and sundry items Adam needs from the other “zombies”. Yeah, for a human, Ian’s all right.

Unfortunately for Ian, he doesn’t know what Adam’s really all about. In his eyes he’s just another reclusive musician - perhaps more eccentric than most as Adam takes great pains to steer Ian away from his bathroom that’s being used as a storage room. “Feel free to piss in the garden.” Adam is fantastic fun to spend time with - it’s a great treat to see a verbosely, bitterly funny character front and center in a Jim Jarmusch film again. As an idealistic, centuries-old vampire Adam has plenty of reasons to be upset with the world. He witnessed Nikola Tesla getting screwed over (his disdain over unsightly bundles of cords marring architecture is a recurring treat), his favorite city turned to ruins, and countless other injustices taken against the world’s real innovators/inventors and cultural centers over the years. It’s a great role and Hiddleston does a fine job of radiating in this bitterness.

Feeling that Adam is falling too far into despair, indeed he did just put in an order with Ian for a wooden bullet, Eve books a flight from Tangier to Detroit in order to try to breathe some positivity into his life. Traveling takes a toll on their kind and booking a flight from Tangiers to Detroit that avoids daylight is a challenge. Luckily, Eve still has some good stuff that she purchased from her supplier in Tangier, the one and only Elizabethan poet Christopher Marlowe (another tender performance from John Hurt). This is good news for Adam as his supply, obtained through a local doctor on the take (Jeffrey Wright), is always a precarious exchange.

Unfortunately the couple only has a few peaceful moments together as hot on the heels of Eve is her chaotic younger sister Ava, the preternaturally ivory-skinned Mia Wasikowska. Adam has had a sense of foreboding about her arrival and rightfully so. She is the kind of vampire that gives them a bad name and perhaps, sadly, she is the kind of vampire of these times. Adam and Eve can be seen, much like Jarmusch himself, as O.G. hipsters (for better or worse) embodying the best of the bygone. It’s easy to criticize the film for playing too much in Jarmusch’s wheelhouse and simply attributing his eclectic tastes to these characters but it is hard to deny these inventors and artists a torch-bearer - especially when Adam and Eve are slow-dancing to Wanda Jackson or grooving to Charlie Feathers on the car stereo, you can feel the love.

After the odd choice of using wild card cinematographer Christopher Doyle in The Limits of Control (a choice, and a movie that has come to grow on me since my initial viewing), Jarmusch has tapped Yorick Le Saux, a cinematographer for Olivier Assayas and Francois Ozon who is adept at capturing colors at their deepest - see also, I Am Love. He’s a perfect choice for Jarmusch’s embrace of the gothic aspects to the vampire mythos. The film is filled with reds, greens, golds and browns that you can wrap yourself around with loving attention paid to every wrinkle, making the film quite the tactile experience. It’s appropriate in more ways than one as Jarmusch adds an interesting addition to the vampire lore by giving Eve the ability to touch an object and sense its history.

The interior of Adam’s little Detroit castle of solitude is a marvel of mise en scene. You’re never really sure how long he’s been living there but as the camera hovers around and, especially, above him, you pick up on bits of information, some big, some small, lying about, or hanging on the walls, that do give a great sense of lived-in comfort. “Easter eggs” abound.

Not that there’s ever been a lack of rewatch-ability in Jim Jarmusch films. Like the best of them, he’s created a world in Only Lovers Left Alive that I could be happy hanging out in indefinitely. Not all of the jokes are gold, but it pleased me so much to be in a Jim Jarmusch comedy - granted, one of death and mourning - that even the ones that fall flat or seem too obvious are charming in the context of the film. Maybe the script could have used another draft, but seeing as he only makes a new film every four years or so… I really find it hard to complain.