Advertisement

Film Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive

Directed by Jim Jarmusch

Opens at the Charles Theatre May 2

When news about Only Lovers Left Alive

, the stylish new Jim Jarmusch vampire film starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, made its way to

Advertisement

City Paper

, reviewers Lee Gardner and Baynard Woods were both excited-for very different reasons. The two watched the film together and wrote a point-counterpoint response to the film over email.

Baynard Woods:

Initially, we decided to structure the review this way because you were psyched about Swinton and vampires but bummed about Jarmusch, and I was psyched about Jarmusch and Swinton but bummed about vampires. But now I think it is the only vampire flick I've ever really thought very highly of-because it turns out that Jarmusch people have been vampires all along. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) had all the same mannerisms as John Lurie way back in

Stranger Than Paradise

, especially in his world-weary, peeved annoyance at Mia Wasikowska's immature vampire character.

Lee Gardner:

Not just vampires but uber-hipsters-connoisseurs of everything from literature to vintage crappy guitars-and imbued with the kind of effortless chic and grace that you get from centuries of practice. They really

have

seen it all. And while I have loved a number of Jarmusch's films over the years, starting with

Stranger

, his compulsive need to make his characters model his own hipster obsessions on their leather sleeves has often proved a head-shaking dealbreaker for me (

The Limits of Control

= the limits of my patience). Here, in Adam and Swinton's Eve, it makes perfect sense. And not only that, but for all their blood sipping and night traveling and predatory reflexes, they're beautifully human, more feeling and even vulnerable than the ordinary human "zombies" they despise. And that's good, because this is a rare thing in Jarmuschstan: a love story, and one that feels more realistic and potent than the sort you see in the average Hollywood rom-com.

Advertisement

Woods:

That effortless chic and grace that you get from centuries of practice is really one of the coolest things about this movie. It reminds me of George Bernard Shaw's

Back to Methuselah

, where Shaw argues that the problem with people is that we die right as we're starting to learn something. In

Lovers

, Adam exhibits a commitment to greatness and a disdain for the meaningless nature of fame, as-I think you're right-would be natural for someone relatively immortal. This is somehow more moving since, as I grow older, life seems ever shorter and more limited in terms of what I can learn or accomplish. In this way, the film's idea of the vampire as someone who has the time to get really good at something is pure fantasy-a utopian brooding that is most apparent in John Hurt's Christopher Marlowe. I loved his character, but he also brought out some of the worst verbal exegesis, which almost spoils the film. The line where Marlowe says of Adam "I wish I would have known him before I wrote

Hamlet

" gets at what is both good and bad about the film's conceit: Of course the vampires are great writers or composers-Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours ain't shit to them. The best presentation of this view is when Adam shows Eve the electrical system that he invented to pull a charge from the air, instead of the "zombie" rig that is our grid. That moment, with Swinton and Hiddleston outside the old abandoned house in Detroit, shows how well these actors could have carried a slightly subtler film.

Gardner

: I just about strained my eye muscles with all the rolling they did during the scene that introduces Hurt's character. One of my pet peeves about movies is when, say, a husband and wife call each other by name and remind each other of things that they surely don't have to mention, solely for expositional purposes. With vampires who've been together for epochs, it's even more pointless. And yet, there's Eve urging Marlowe to come clean as the pen behind Shakespeare, just so us idiot zombies will know who he is. Nonetheless, Jarmusch has a fairly novel take on vampires (a term that never comes up), from how they look and live to how one might commit suicide. But the smartest thing he did was assembling his cast, especially Swinton. It's easy for actors to fang scenery to ribbons when playing immortal bloodsuckers, but the two leads are superbly subtle. Adam's laconic restraint when dealing with his human hipster gofer Ian (Anton Yelchin) makes it clear how he could pass as an imperious, reclusive rock auteur, but when Ian betrays him, he seems almost as sad as angry. And when Adam pauses when Eve asks how he is over a transatlantic call, Swinton's face and body language tell you everything you need to know about what his reaction means and how their relationship works. The two leads are also preternaturally charismatic: A lingering shot of the two of them sleeping naked, intertwined, pale and lean and gleaming, is likely to cause all sorts of ambisexual vapors.

Woods

: Yeah, I love the way the film did away with most of the tired vampire trappings. And that he actually gives some drama to their lives by way of existential crisis and blood poisoning. The settings, as always in Jarmusch, were almost as important as the people. When we first see Swinton walking through the insanely tangled streets of Tangiers, going to meet Marlowe to pick up blood, it conjures Jane and Paul Bowles, William Burroughs, et al. and makes junkie-chic actually chic. And it also helps characterize Swinton and Marlowe as

those

kinds of literary bohemians, whereas Adam's digs in abandoned Detroit put him the lineage of what you call rock auteurs (Patti Smith married Fred "Sonic" Smith to go reclusive, and Hiddleston's character cops her hairstyle-there was even a funny Jack White joke). I've never really thought of Jarmusch and novelist Don DeLillo together, but the way that he uses style + place = character in this film made it impossible not to think of the writer's rock 'n' roll novel,

Great Jones Street

. And I guess this might be a point to mention that much of the music is composed by Jarmusch's band SQÜRL-so that he is the one who ends up writing and composing, though he gets the actors (zombies?) to take the credit. But ultimately, the film turns being an artist into something very sad-because we zombies have so fucked up the world.

Gardner

: But in the end Adam and Eve have each other, and as corny as it might sound on the page, they have art. What plot there is doesn't exactly hurtle along, but the complications pile up, and it starts to seem like Adam's world-weariness is the only rational response to trying to exist in a time when humans have smoked the world all the way down to the filter. And then they stumble across a musical moment whose transformative power Jarmusch doesn't have to sell at all. I don't know that there's a manifesto to be found in this romantic vision of literal us-against-the-world hipsterism, but it didn't escape my notice that the vampires' flyaway conditioner-free hairdos have more in common with the auteur's own silver pseudo-pompadour than the average Sports Clips high-and-tight.

Advertisement
Advertisement