Anyone who thought that the recent resurgence of the vampire genre was on its way out, hadn’t counted on Jim Jarmusch wading in with his eclectic take on it. Only Lovers Left Alive is Jarmusch’s lightheaded and moody homage. It is tale about love and timelessness with a backdrop of vampires and is built around the undeniable chemistry between the two leads Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. Although the word ‘vampire’ is never specifically mentioned, it is clear that this is the subject matter, from the blood drinking, the references to the Middle Ages and the fact that the film takes place entirely at night. Oh, and the small matter of some of the characters being bitten. The story is slight and put simply follows two vampires in love, who are reunited by Tom Hiddleston’s suicidal tendencies. The appearance of Ava, Tilda Swinton’s sister causes a slight upheaval, and after her departure and clearing up her mess, they retreat back to Tangiers, where the film began.
Names become very important throughout the film, Tom Hiddleston is Adam and Tilda Swinton Eve, a reflection of the timelessness and insular nature of the pair. The film is full of these knowing winks and Adam and Eve’s passport identities range from Daisy Buchanan to Stephen Daedalus. Jarmusch has even gone so far as to make a vampire Christopher Marlowe a character in the film, played by John Hurt, which of course means once again dredging up the question of authorship between Shakespeare and Marlowe. Although an issue we should now leave well alone, in this film it is used to portray Jarmusch’s ideas about the nature of art, its immortality and the fame it brings with it. This name-dropping is at times excessive, but it is all done very self-consciously and firmly tongue-in-cheek. The question of famous figures is one that occurs again and again, and despite the assertion from Adam that ‘I don’t have heroes’ his wall of portraits would beg to differ.
The film is set entirely in the dark and involves an awful lot of sleeping. This makes for a very drowsy aesthetic and makes the audience lightheaded. The setting of Detroit adds to its eerie nature and as Adam and Eve drive around the city at night we see how much of a ghost town it has become and makes the perfect home for this reclusive, nocturnal creature. The film centers around the dynamic of the two protagonists and both performances make the film what it is. Tilda Swinton is the perfect choice for this role as a ghostly vampiric character. She completely embodies the image of a pale creature wandering around Tangiers in dark sunglasses, and looking achingly cool and ethereal, lounging in Moroccan gowns. In contrast, Tom Hiddleston may not have seemed the obvious actor for the role, but clearly his stint as Loki has left its mark. Only Lovers Left Alive sees him once again donning the long black locks and brooding looks that made him such a great baddie in the first place. Now as a suicidal, romantic vampire who used to hang out with Byron and Shelley, he is wonderfully bleak and moody, complaining about the ‘zombie shit’ that humans have created.
It is by no means a flawless film and for many the languor and anachronistic flamboyance of the central characters may teeter on the cusp of self-indulgence. But Jarmusch’s knowing nod to the genre brings out the ridiculous and humorous nature of it and the film is highly enjoyable. The chemistry between Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton is incredible to watch and highlights of the film include moments when they are simply sitting together, or dancing. The mood is created through movement and the glances between them. The whole effect is an incredibly heady, atmospheric experience, which is a fun watch; just make sure you don’t go into the film sleepy.