Only Lovers Left Alive: Jarmusch Slight but Personal and Likable Take on Vampire Mythology Starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston

only_lovers_left_alive_posterAfter stumbling in several films (The Limits of the Control), Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, his iconic, minimalist, post-modern take on the vampire mythology, is a step in the right direction.

To be sure, the film, is a minor work in the oeuvre of the quintessentially independent American directors (one of few left around).  Self-consciously cool, “Only Lovers Left Alive” looks and sounds like a European art film, and the melancholy mood and great ensemble acting elevate the text way above its spare and sparse narrative.
World-premiering in competition at the 2013 Cannes Film Fest, where Jarmusch has been a regular presence for the past three decades–ever since his second feature, the 1984 Stranger Than Paradise, won the Camera d’Or–the film will be released by Sony Classics in spring 2014.

 

 

only_lovers_left_alive_6_swinton_hiddlestonAs if setting to prove that that every director has to put his personal stamp on the ever-popular vampire genre, Jarmusch has constructed a slight love story that’s easy to take.  And as expected of him by now, he deviates from the genre’s familiar conventions and reinvents them in some considerable ways.

Jarmusch’s last film, The Limits of Control, was more ambitious (and pretentious) but completely non-commercial, a cipher that few viewers saw in theaters and even fewer bothered to appreciate or understand.

Thus, it’s a relief to report that “Only Lovers Left Alive” is more accessible, in large part due to the performances of Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in the lead roles.
only_lovers_left_alive_5_swinton_hiddlestonJarmusch acknowledges formally his longtime partner, Sara Driver, for “instigation and inspiration,” though I can only guess what precisely her contribution was to this quirk, laid-back romance.

On one level, the tale is a celebration of the passion and bliss between two creatures who are have managed to stay in love and need each other for centuries.

It goes without saying that both are outcasts and outsiders, out of step with the modern world and surrounding reality. As such, they fit very well into Jarmusch’s gallery of laconic and mysterious characters.

Well-cast, Tilda Swinton plays Eve, an upbeat, optimistic femme, trying to cheer up her lover Adam (Hiddleston), who is more pessimistic, cynical, and borderline suicidal.  She spells out the merits of continuous living, such as enjoying Nature, expressing generosity and kindness, and even dancing.

As far as narrative conventions and cliches are concerned, this duo of vampires is nice, kind, and attractive. They make a point of getting their blood supply from hospitals rather than flesh-and-blood human beings, whom (in what must be an inside joke) they call zombies.

Make no mistakes: Adam and Eve are not modest or humble–they are quick to point out their contribution to art and letters, and the intellectual company they have spent time with, such as Shakespeare and Schubert, among others.

In another inside joke, Jarmusch makes specific allusion to the notion that it was actually Christopher Marlowe (nicely played by John Hurt as a vampire), who wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Early on in the saga, living in Tangiers (why there?), Marlowe socializes with Eve, and he expresses bitterness over his lack of peer or public recognition.

Adam and Eve are secure—perhaps too comfy–in their relationship to the point where physical separation and life in different continents makes no impact.  Their love has survived and will continue to survive political and phsyical boundaries.

I have not liked much any Jarmusch films since “Dead Man,” the stylized black-and-white Western starring Johnny Depp and Robert Mitchum, and so watching “Only Lovers Left Alive” proved to be a positive experience.

Make no mistake, “Only Lovers Left Alive” is unlike any other vampire movie you have seen, yet it’s a tribute to Jarmusch that he usues some of this genre’s vocabularly while both deviating and rising above the norms to create his own unique feature.