I like the idea of vampires. Not romantic and sappy Twilight vampires but back to basics vampires. I’m thinking those who build on the foundations laid out by John Polidori (let us not forget the true father of the literary vampire) and Bram Stoker: basically Lord Byron but with a bigger appetite for blood. So vampires: tick. As you probably also know, I really like Tom Hiddleston (I’m talking worry proportions here). Therefore, after finding myself alone on Valentine’s Day, I made the best of the situation by watching a preview showing of Jim Jarmusch’s vampire love story with friends. I ask you, dear reader, if you can think of a better Valentine’s companion, than sexy vampire Hiddleston. No, thought not.
In the nineties painfully hip director Jim Jarmusch experimented with genres and gave the world his indie versions of the classic western, Dead Man, and the samurai movie, Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai. As we all know, these days there are very few things quite as popular as vampires so it was only a matter of time until Jarmusch tackled this in his usual ‘too cool for school’ style.
Taking back vampires to the original Byronic hero style, Jarmusch’s tale follows undead married couple Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton). The pair has been together for centuries but now find themselves apart. Eve meanders around Tangier enjoying the music and literature it has to offer her. She has a lust for the after-life and enjoys her time with friends, including the famous Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) who also happens to be her supplier of clean blood.
Across the globe in Detroit, Adam is a reclusive rock star who is lamenting the stench of humanity that has infected the world around him. Viewing all of mankind as culture destroying “zombies”, Adam has grown tired of his immortal existence and divides his time between making melancholic music with his vast array of musical equipment and contemplating firing a wooden bullet through his chest. Worrying about her long-distance love, Eve packs up her belongings and travels to her husband’s side.
We have come to expect certain things from Jarmusch’s films and Only Lovers is no different, despite being one of his most accessible films for a few years. The director’s focus has never been on narrative and story but on style, characters and mood. The film looks amazing thanks to the work of cinematographer, Yorick le Saux, and production designer, Marco Bittner Rosser. Thanks to the crumbling backdrop of modern Detroit, the film-makers have created a dark and luscious world full of hypnotic images that sum up Adam and Eve’s strange, night-time world. Most notably those gorgeous slow-motion scenes in which the camera circles over the couple.
Only Lovers is a technically wonderful film and visually stunning but, don’t go into this expecting great drama and complicated story. It is minimalistic and slow-paced, giving itself room to be self-indulgent and arty. Nevertheless, thanks to the fantastic performances from the main cast you never feel less than engrossed by the limited action on screen. Tilda Swinton makes an elegant and beautiful vampire and, if it is even possible, gives the film its humanity and sympathy. She treats Adam with a motherly tenderness and attempts to remind him of the joys the world has to offer. Swinton is the strongest member of the cast and is utterly mesmerising.
Her husband Adam is a much less agreeable character thanks to his incessant dark mood. Adam’s condemnation of the majority of the human race endows him with some amusing deadpan evaluations but Adam occasionally comes across as just another annoying hipster moaning about modern culture and lamenting the loss of the old ways. Due to Hiddleston’s inherent likeability and his relationship with Eve, Adam is prevented from falling over into full on emo-ness and becomes someone you care about.
Thankfully for the audience, we have a brief respite from Adam’s negativity with the arrival of Eve’s younger sister Ava, or at least the vampire equivalent of a sibling. Played by the joyful Mia Wasikowska, the screen lights up every time Ava appears. Acting like the playful toddler getting in the way of the pairs romance, Wasikowska is a scene-stealer and, though I never thought it would be possible, grabs the attention away from Tom Hiddleston’s remarkable cheekbones.
The main characters are aided by notable supporting roles from John Hurt as Marlowe, Anton Yelchin as Adam’s loyal errand boy, and Jeffrey Wright as an opportunistic doctor who supplies Adam with his supply of blood. They are all allowed to have a bit more fun than either Swinton or Hiddleston and bring some light-hearted relief to the potential melodrama of the central relationship.
Jarmusch’s script is littered with humour and self-awareness. This is not a vampire film but a Jim Jarmusch film containing vampires. It is arty, unconventional and ever so delightfully pretentious. There are few allusions to traditional vampiric law and instead the couple make numerous references to the historic figures that they have met over their vast lifetime. Those not accustomed to Jarmusch’s work will no doubt find this grating and smug but there is something lovely and alluring about its unashamed superiority.
This certainly isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. If you are looking for a complex and drama-filled story then this may not be the film for you. However, if you appreciate stylish films, with an interesting script and intriguing, well-drawn characters I insist you give this a chance.