R, 123 min.
Director/Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Jeffrey Wright, Slimane Dazi
What Jim Jarmusch did for the spy genre with “The Limits of Control”, he now does for the vampire flick with “Only Lovers Left Alive”… for a little while anyway. I think if he’d stuck on his minimalist line with this one, he would’ve lost me; but the second half of the movie gets a little more conventional. In doing so, it finds its purpose.
The first half of this film seems to be saying, “Vampires are people too.” It depicts the problems of being a vampire in the modern world. We meet two lovers who inexplicably live half a world apart from each other. The male, played by Tom Hiddleston, is depressed with existence. Not really his own existence, but that of humanity. He refers to normal people as zombies, and he can barely stand us zombies. He may have to shoot himself with a wooden bullet. The woman, played by Tilda Swinton, flies to Detroit where the man lives, to comfort him.
These are two very courteous vampires considering how they detest the living. No victims here. They obtain their blood from hospitals. It has to be pure because people today have consumed so many toxins that drinking blood directly from the source often causes sickness. Anyway, they live a life of doldrums, although they provide happiness to each other; and it’s all rather dull until the woman’s sister shows up. She’s a tornado of destruction and her actions force the two lovers out of their cocoon of vampire protection.
I think what the film is really about is our fears of doing anything in this frightening world we’ve created for ourselves. These vampires talk a good game, but their lives don’t resemble much more than self-imposed deaths until they’re forced to remember who they really are. These are well-cultured, well-educated vamps. One of their friends is the playwright Christopher Marlowe. They know a lot and do very little. Perhaps it’s a reflection of our information-saturated world and how it holds down much of our more primal, visceral need for action and life.
Visually, this is one of Jarmusch’s more remarkable films. Not necessarily known for his visual flare, Jarmusch evokes some rather magical images of the vampires just being in their own environments. There are several sequences where the image spins, like a turntable. In fact, several actual show a turntable spinning, as music plays a large role in the film.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” will not please the “Twilight” set. It is a welcome departure from that. It also may not please horror enthusiasts so much as it is not based in scares. This is the vampire film for the cerebral set, and as long as you can stay awake for the first hour, it is worth it.