FILM REVIEW: Only Lovers Left Alive – Jim Jarmusch

H.G. Watson

Only Loves Left Alive
Dir. Jim Jarmusch
Sony Pictures Classics (2014)

Some might consider it ironic that a movie about creation is centered on a pair of dead characters, but when you enter the world of eccentric director Jim Jarmusch, anything goes.

Only Lovers Left Alive is about vampires Eve (Tilda Swinton) and Adam (Tom Hiddleston), a pair of trans-Atlantic lovers who have spent hundreds of years creating and absorbing art. Eve lives in Tangiers, where she spends her time reading and drinking pure blood with Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) – who, yes, is also a vampire and has spent his time writing plays under various pen names.

Adam is a famous, yet reclusive musician who has set up shop in Detroit. He writes music and tinkers with various rare guitars acquired for him by human Ian (Anton Yelchin), but he’s become disillusioned with existence and plans on taking his own life, leading Eve to make the trip to Michigan to pull her lover out of a funk.

The plot, insomuch as a Jarmusch film can have a plot, is about the pair trying to find beauty. Drinking blood, though important, isn’t the driving force for these vampires – it’s art. They want to see more of it in the world.

Detroit works well as the setting for a majority of the film. As the pair spend nights aimlessly driving against a backdrop of abandoned buildings, Adam intones, “it’s a dead city.” But Eve sees the potential in Detroit. “It will bloom again – there’s water here.” The city, like the vampires themselves, represents the cycle of creation and destruction that is fundamental to artistic practice.

The film doesn’t focus on Detroit’s ruins, however. With the arrival of Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), the lovers are pulled into the younger vampire’s destructive and impulsive life as she drags them out to nightclubs and bars – a huge disruption in their lives. If Adam and Eve are the careful creators and curators of art, then Ava represents every artist who can’t say no to the last drink or pill.

Only Lovers Left Alive is a delicately shot film, in every way. Both Hiddleston and Swinton are ethereal and pale. Light – the bane of vampires – is a constant threat in every shot, whether it’s the far off lights of skyscrapers or red and yellow candlelight emanating from a Moroccan coffee shop.

It’s easy to imagine that this movie represents Jarmusch’s own artistic process, from the frustrations to the motivations. If that is the case, he should be proud that what he has wrought is something beautiful, interesting and unique.

Only Lovers Left Alive plays at the Princess Cinemas (6 Princess St. W) May 23 to June 1.