Jim Jarmusch, possible the coolest director alive, has not been the most prolific of directors as of late, with an average of four years going between his film for the past 18 years or so. His last film, The Limits of Control, was considered a disappointment by many (though this critic did like it), so it’s been nearly a decade since Jarmusch made a film that most people liked (then again, he’s never really been the kind of director most people like). But with Only Lovers Left Alive, Jarmusch is back in top form.

There have been a lot of vampire movies throughout the history of cinema and you could say the genre has been done to death (with the Twilight series being a particularly bad example of where the genre has gone). But as it turns out Jarmusch, being the genius that he is, has found a new way to make a vampire movie.

In this film we have vampires who have come to realise that killing people left and right doesn’t really work well to make it in the 21st century. Only Lovers Left Alive is basically a movie about what it’s like to be a vampire in the 21st century, but in the real world not some fantasy reality, and how vampires are really just like everybody else, save for their blood lust.

Two lonely vampires

The protagonists are two vampires named Adam and Eve (yes, that’s right), played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, who live at opposite ends of the world. He’s in Detroit, while she lives in Tangier. Swinton and Hiddleston, despite a 20 year age difference, make for a very convincing vampire couple, with him having a kind of dark emo-goth look (he kind of looks like Jared Leto) while she’s all white, clothes, hair and all. They’re opposites and yet two of a kind.

This film doesn’t really have much of a plot, Jarmusch has never been one for strong narratives anyway but here he’s bypassed a narrative nearly altogether. There are some minor elements that are plot-ish, such as when Swinton’s sister (Mia Wasikowska) appears and the couple has to deal with her bloodthirst, but they’re not really what the movie is about. This is a movie that’s all about mood and groove, and what fantastic mood and groove!

This vampire may not be a big fan of Shakespeare

This film can easily be described with just one word: Cool. Everything here oozes with cool. You could say this movie is *about* being cool. What’s cooler than being a vampire? And not just a vampire but one that does nothing but read great books or listen to awesome music, or even *make* awesome music. Adam’s apartment consists mostly of vintage instruments, vinyl albums and various mixers, amplifiers and such. It’s one cool place. Hell, these vampires are so cool they wear sunglasses when it’s dark (though that’s mostly to hide their eyes).

In a way this is a kind of fetish movie, though maybe not in the sexual sense, as much of it consists of its two lead fondling and admiring their collections of things. In the first shots of each character they’re surrounded by their belongings, he’s got his instruments and she’s got her books. It’s what they live for, aside from each other (though, it’s never really clear why they don’t live together), as they have to live in secrecy being vampires and all and thus cannot enjoy life like everyone else.

The coolest thing in this very cool movie has to be the music. The score was written by Jozef Van Wissem, but the film is also filled with tracks by Jarmusch’ own band, SQÜRL (which comprises most of Adam’s music). It’s a kind of drone music that’s very fitting for the world this movie is set in, a world of deserted streets and houses in decay. There’s a certain post-apocalyptic feel to everything, with Adam living in the seemingly deserted city of Detroit and the vampires referring to the humans as zombies. As if these vampires are living in a dying world (and apparently they’re a dying breed themselves) and thus try to live as much as they can in their glorious past, through old clothes, old instruments and old books.

OnlyLoversLeftAlive_5

Final Verdict: Only Lovers Left Alive is as cool as it gets and proof that a film doesn’t need to have a plot or heed to the rules of screenwriting 101. It manages to coast on groove and mood for its duration and puts a fresh spin on the vampire genre along the way. It’s also really funny with terrific performances by leads Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. And did we mention it’s cool?

4stars_2

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Written By Atli

Atli is a film geek from Iceland who dreams of being a great film director, but until then he’s going to criticize the works of other film directors, great and not-so-great alike. His favorite actor is Sam Rockwell and his favorite directors are (among others) Robert Altman, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Billy Wilder, Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick. Atli also loves pizza, travelling and reading good books.


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  • Erlingur Grétar Einarsson

    There’s something about the prospect of Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston together in a film that makes me weirdly excited.

  • Sverrir Sigfússon

    Completely agree, terrific film. It’s kind of amazing how nothing happening can be so captivating.

  • Samantha Gurash

    Mr. Sigurjónsson-

    I enjoyed your review very much, and am so looking forward to seeing Only Lovers Left Alive when it finally
    comes to theatres. As a screenwriting student at the University of Southern California who loves a good horror movie, it’s interesting to see an alternative take on the vampire, a creature that’s gotten so much exposure in
    recent pop culture. Dead Man is one of my favorite films, so I’m confident Jim Jarmusch will produce a truly unique
    viewing experience. As best I can see, Only Lovers Left Alive plays on two sacred Hollywood institutions and subverts them: vampires and strict narratives. The modern vampire has certainly undergone a myriad of adjustments and complete revisions over the years, and Jarmusch has
    certainly taken them in a decidedly hip, nostalgic direction. Their angst isn’t of the teenage variety, but an existential one that older audiences will be able to easily identify with.

    My main concern with the film’s premise is its distinct lack of narrative drive, something that Jarmusch is not unfamiliar with, as you’ve noted in your article. Movies shot in a similar format such as Somewhere have been received in a lukewarm fashion, with audiences and reviewers either getting the concept or not. Lovers is presented as an under the radar art flick, which I
    believe will give the film a bit of leeway in regards to its unconventional storytelling and emphasis on aesthetic over plot. Using a popular cultural icon with a historically loyal audience such as the vampire also lends credibility to the new art form, though I would wonder if the “cool factor” of Adam and Eve and the almost apocalyptic setting of Detroit is enough to carry a feature length
    film for most audiences. I would watch Jim Jarmusch direct a toothpaste commercial, but in the era of billion dollar blockbusters and declining tickets returns for films, I wonder if a gamble such as this will help or hinder further efforts for character explorations. Do you foresee those viewers who flocked to True Blood and teen-oriented vampire films to add to Lovers’ box office draw, or is the
    vampire brand recognition too tenuous for such a niche film? It took Jarmusch and Swinton seven years to put together the funding for the film because of the hesitant attitude investors had. Jarmusch himself even joked that one motivation for a vampire film was “[making] a lot of money with them.” On a more serious note, he cited the “beautiful vampire films” for inspiring Lovers, which I think films of this style could use to their advantage. More creative risks should be taken, especially when there is a safety net of well-established film icons. I very much look forward to seeing a rise in smaller, less firmly structured pieces, and I believe that films such as Only Lovers Left Alive could help pave the way.