Only Lovers Left Alive, Film Review

Set amongst romantic desolation, a deeply depressed underground musician reunites with his enigmatic lover. No, not your average weekend in Surry Hills, but the new film from Jim Jarmusch. Here’s our review:

Eve lays motionless, draped in gold in her bedroom that is ornately decorated in delicate fabrics and strewn treasured books that had been collected, read and re-read by her for centuries past. The camera circles over her stupor as she lays, palms facing up. Adam, is seen in a similar state, resting miles away in his reclusive Detroit abode. He’s a gothic figure, placed among his assorted prized guitars. The soundtrack wails with one of Adam’s psychedelic ballads as the bodies twirl in their out-of-body high, blissful state.

The lovers, placed in desolate outer Detroit and exotic Tangier soon reunite after lonely urges overcome them. They’re in doomed cities full of zombies and need to be together, to live, make love, create and feast on the ‘really good stuff’ as a pair. They exist remotely, far from the ‘zombies’ of their cities; as temptation to drain their pumping bodies is too great. A pricked trickling finger, or a handsome, long-haired musician, are everyday temptations for feeding that they must restrain.

Eve, played by  Tilda Swindon – who seems to have opted out of a costume (bar the matted white wig), plays the stern, alabaster vampire excellently. I could have watched her sashaying through the corridors of Tangier in white leather and a headscarf for the duration of the whole film. Her adoring lover, the morose Adam, seen in humanly form as Tom Hiddleston, is monotonous, and charmingly fed-up with the living that continually pest him at home. The appearance of Australia’s Mia Wasikowska as Eve’s bratty sister, Ava (creative naming there, parents) pushes the film into melodrama territory, but it’s a fantastic ride.

Only Lovers Left Alive suffers from the same central problems as Jim Jarmusch’s 2009 film, The Limits of Control: in how it is a rather extraordinary story is told at a rather ordinary pace.  The pace in this release is incredibly slow and the film pushes well over two hours. It’s never dull, mind you: the cinematography is beautiful, and Hiddleston and Swinton delightfully chew every bit of scenery they can lay their hands on with cool charisma and excellent dark comedy one-liners. As characters, their life stories cross centuries and continents, counting some of history’s largest figures as players. For a film that gives itself such a grand concept, it feels awfully slight.

Another noteable irk with the production is the blatant symbolism that Jamusch has developed.  From the red Gothic lettering of the opening titles, the film delights in its Gothic conceit, to the extent that one is never sure if Jarmusch is being serious or sarcastic. The main characters are named Adam and Eve. He, tired of eternal life, dresses in black, while she, relishing her extended existence, wears white. The symbolism is heavy-handed, making it difficult to tell if Jarmusch is brilliant and bitter or just lazy when it comes to his writing.  Similarly, the frequent flashes of the latest iPhone were either an idiots visual cue that the blood-suckers were in present day, or a horrifically unnecessary case of product placement.

I don’t mean to complain though, Only Lovers Left Alive is by no means a waste of your time. The acting is top notch, coming in just the right side of campy as the characters prowl the night in leather pants and fright wigs. The set design is exceptional, especially Adam’s decrepit mansion on the outskirts of Detroit. But the film could have been more than the sum of its parts. Eve, hints at the darkness of the past and the horror of humanity’s future, but these are only glimpses of a much more powerful film. Some more attention paid to the script and some more judicious work in the editing suite could have raised this film from good to great.

Only Lovers Left Alive review by Carol Bowditch and Liam Casey. The film is released on 17th April.