When heading into a Jim Jarmusch movie, you have no idea what to expect. He remains one of the most indie of indie directors, and is able to make his movies with little problems despite the fact that mainstream America still has no idea who he is. That made the news that he was making a vampire movie called “Only Lovers Left Alive” so surprising. However, when leaving the theater after watching the film, it was clear this was 100 percent a Jim Jarmusch vampire movie.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” stars Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as vampire lovers whose lives are thrown into turmoil when the young and dangerous Ava (Mia Wasikowska) shows up on their doorstep.
While that sounds like a good setup for a horrific vampire movie, what happens is much less horror and much more contemplation about their place in the world. This is a Jim Jarmusch movie, so there is a lot of reflection and a minimalistic focus on mood and atmosphere. This is a movie more about what it is like to be a vampire rather than a movie about vampires.
Don’t think there isn’t any good old fashioned vampire horror, however there is more a sense of dread than a sense of gore. The biggest shock in the movie is the aftermath of a traditional vampire attack, while the actual attack is never shown. The biggest horrors of the movie are that the heroes, named in typical Jarmusch fashion as Adam and Eve, might be watching their world ending around them.
Be warned – people wanting to see a good old fashioned vampire movie might be bored to tears by this film, but anyone who wants a smart, contemplative look at characters will be rewarded tremendously. Within the long shots of the leads stretched on a bed or long drives through a dead Detroit, there is a lot of information to take in. An example is the use of Detroit itself, which is a great comparison to the story of death and decay in the world of vampires. The city has died in recent years, making it a perfect backdrop for the undead lead characters.
Tom Hiddleston does a fantastic job in his role as the musician who lives to create his music, yet never wants it to get out to the world. He isn’t looking for popularity or stardom like Lestat in Anne Rice’s novels. He is making music as he looks for something of meaning in his life. Tilda Swinton is brilliant in her role as his wife, living in Europe, but setting out to meet up with her lover when she fears he may be contemplating ending his existence. This is their story and every hypnotic and melancholy scene takes one step further in telling the story of these lovers and why they are perfect for one another.
When Mia Wasikowska appears, she brings a spark into the story – really the only light in the otherwise dark world. Unlike Adam and Eve, who are tired and weary from their years on the Earth, Ava loves her life as a vampire and has no problem living the life movie fans are used to when watching horror movie’s vampires on the big screen. Her relationship with the mortal Ian (Anton Yelchin) is intense and brings the only visceral horror of the movie.
Overall, the entire cast is electric, with John Hurt as the elder vampire Marlowe another notable actor. What might take this movie to the next level is the music, a very important addition since Adam is a musician by trade. The music he creates is industrial in nature, similar to a raw version of a Trent Reznor score. It is a haunting score that adds to the hypnotic feel of the movie.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” is not a movie for everyone, and really only acquired tastes might be seduced by its lure. However, at the end of the day, it is a brilliant look at love and death and was one of the most unique movies of 2014.