Only Lovers Left Alive – Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are timeless lovers in Jim Jarmusch’s indie vampire flick

Just when you thought that the world had enough vampire films to last a lifetime, another shows up. But wait! Before you head for the hills in terror, this is actually one you’ll want to see – a beautiful tale with a timeless and wholly realistic love story at its centre. This is a Jim Jarmusch film after all. His works are often about the journeys people take and how it changes them for better or worse (Broken Flowers (2005) and Dead Man (1995)) or simply about different types of people meeting and connecting, or not connecting (Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)). Yet no matter how his films might differ in subject matter, they are always cool tales featuring interesting and compelling characters. And Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) is no different. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are 2 centuries-old ‘vegetarian’ vampires just drifting along in (un)life – he’s a reclusive musician living in Detroit, she’s a free spirit living in Tangier. When the lovers reunite once more though there is another imminent arrival on the horizon that spells trouble for them both…

Although this story seems like one we’ve heard a million times before – a big drama/thriller filled with potential horror – it’s not. Which seems surprising given the vampiric subject matter. This being a Jarmusch film, he instead focuses on something of more importance than plot twists and turns: the characters. Only Lovers Left Alive is all about how they relate to each other, in particular the main 2 of the story. And for this reason it is terrifically inventive and superbly captivating to watch, and completely different from what you expect to see when hearing the term ‘vampire film’.

Jarmusch’s film is to all intents and purposes like any other drama featuring an ordinary couple, that they need blood is just an extra thing for them to think about. He makes a point of never really stating that they are actually vampires and he doesn’t revel in gore and violence, something that might have tempted other directors tackling similar subject matter. Instead he leaves the gruesome out to focus on the beauty of Adam and Eve’s everlasting and pure relationship.

And that compelling couple is another element that absorbs you into the story. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are effortlessly cool and ethereally beautiful as the lovers. Their relationship is realistic and convincing, their haunting performances complementing each other perfectly. They could well be real centuries-old vamps for all we know… They are ably supported by Anton Yelchin as Ian, a grungy rocker (and one of the only humans in the film) who helps Adam get his music out for others to hear, and by Mia Wasikowska as Ava, Eve’s wild little sister who is a barrel of laughs for the viewer, but not really for the onscreen couple. John Hurt is also superb as the prolific writer Christopher Marlowe, who some will be surprised to discover became a vampire, it would seem… However great these other performances though they all pale in comparison to Swinton and Hiddleston – they are absolutely the driving forces behind the whole story and an endlessly watchable pair. Oh, and they are both superbly sexy too, whether they are appearing together onscreen or separately.

Stunning performances are always needed in a character-driven piece like this, but it is Jim Jarmusch’s gorgeous direction that really makes Only Lovers Left Alive truly special. Dreamlike visuals and beautiful cinematography create a world that you just ooze into, an atmospheric landscape that is gorgeously lensed and with shots that are stunningly composed. Jarmusch’s direction throughout is also slow-paced in a way that matches the vampires meaningful movements in their never-ending lives, a clever idea that he has brilliantly executed.

Jim Jarmusch also has a method that he often uses in his films and that he uses here too – that of stopping the story and letting the moment do the talking. These moments at first glimpse seem to be simply about music or a gorgeous visual, but in fact they tell us all we need to know about the characters. Whether Adam and Eve are staring into the distance or dancing together to a favourite song, it is always possible to understand what the characters are thinking, without actually saying anything at all. And that is a very fine achievement indeed. Speaking of the music, the soundtrack by composer Jozef van Wissem is everything you want it to be – gothic, elegant and haunting. The music pulls you into the vampires’ slow and otherworldly state of mind, and the film itself too, staying with you for days after you’ve seen this.

The story to Only Lovers Left Alive might seem a little lacking to some, without much in the way of the usual terrifying vampire plot people are used to, or expecting. Yet this can only be a good thing in a time when there are so many vampire themed films it has become predictable and boring. Jim Jarmusch ably injects life into the genre, making it his own through all his trademark touches, creating an effortlessly cool tale focusing on the characters, their lives and their relationships. A beautiful film filled with elegant visuals and arresting performances, in particular from Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as the main pair. Slow-paced and dreamlike without ever being boring, a mesmerising watch and a real state of emotion film. Vampires have never been sexier…or less like vampires really.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on February 24, 2014.

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