Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive Photo: Gordon A Timpen © 2013 – SODA Pictures


The success of the Twilight saga has seen the resurgence of vampires in popular culture. These vampires are sparkly and whiny one-dimensional creatures gushed over by tween fans. Eclectic director Jim Jarmusch has taken the liberty of revamping the image of these tired bloodsuckers, giving them a dose of indie-cred and rock ‘n’ roll bravado in his film Only Lovers Left Alive.

Jarmusch’s vampires – aptly named Adam and Eve – are brooding, sunglass-clad rock stars who sleep all day and swig on blood from hip flasks. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a “suicidally romantic scoundrel” who hides behind a tangled mess of dark hair and collects guitars in his crumbling Detroit mansion.

Halfway across the globe, his lover Eve (Tilda Swinton) stalks the backstreets of Tangier. Swinton is mesmerising as Eve, a character seemingly fashioned in Jarmusch’s own image with frazzled white hair and dark Ray-Bans. While Adam drowns in his own melancholy, Eve launches into her collection of books and converses with her old friend Christopher Marlowe (the delightful John Hurt). As it turns out, the acclaimed 16th century English dramatist is also an immortal.

Australian actress Mia Wasikowska plays Eve’s younger bloodthirsty sister Eva, who crashes the couple’s Detroit love nest. Eva represents the insatiable culture of consumption that Adam detests. She demands digital downloads of his music and wastes her nights away dancing and drinking (blood, of course).

While Only Lovers Left Alive is a meditation on isolation and urban decay, it is ultimately a love story. Adam and Eve’s romance is older than the 200-year-old robes they lounge around in. Their bond has outlasted the spoils of distance, time and even death itself.

The film is dripping with dark humour and wry observations about the human condition. Adam hilariously refers to the human population as moronic “zombies” who trade in fear and destruction. Jarmusch saturates the film with playful winks to the gothic genre, from the camp, Germanic font of the opening titles, moody nighttime aesthetic and sly references to Faust and Caligari. Jack White and the Tesla Coil, which first appeared in Jarmusch’s 2003 film Coffee and Cigarettes, also score a mention.

The soundtrack by Dutch composer Jozef van Wissem and supplemented by Jarmusch’s own band Sqürl, is a delicious marriage of old rock and roll songs, ambling electric guitar and exotic Middle Eastern strings. The St George Open Air Cinema in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens was a fitting backdrop for the preview screening, with a colony of screeching bats joining the film’s soundtrack.

Only Lovers Left Alive is a poetic, stylish and deadly funny film that will quench the thirst of Jim Jarmusch fans.

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