Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive

Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, Only Lovers Left Alive is the story of two vampire lovers reuniting when one wants to end his eternity as their reunion is shattered by the arrival of one’s sister. The film is a unique take on the vampire story as it plays to the fallacy of eternal life that revolves around a group of vampires who live in a strange world ranging from Tangiers to Detroit. Starring Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, Jeffrey Wright, and John Hurt. Only Lovers Left Alive is a compelling and intoxicating film from Jim Jarmusch.

The film explores the lives of two vampire lovers who had lived for countless centuries as they reunite after some time apart as they cope with not just mortality but also the human race. Even as these two lovers in Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) live in separate worlds where the former lives in Detroit as a reclusive musician and the latter living in Tangier surrounded by books. Adam’s growing dissatisfaction with humanity has him wanting to end his life which Eve senses as she arrives to Detroit to cheer him up only for their renewed romance to be interrupted by Eve’s wild sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) whom Adam dislikes. It’s a film that explores not just the fallacy of eternity but also in how two vampires who have live their live through influencing humanity only to realize that they have done so little which makes Adam despondent about his role in life.

Jim Jarmusch’s screenplay does use a traditional structure where the first act is set in both Detroit and Tangier to showcase the sense of longing that Adam and Eve have toward one another. Especially as they both have different human contacts where the only person Adam lets into his house is a rock n’ roll kid named Ian (Anton Yelchin) and gets his blood from a mysterious doctor known as Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright) whom he pays off. For Eve, she is surrounded by mystical wonders in Tangier as her contact is the famed writer Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) who is revealed to be a vampire that has faked his death and lives under a different name. The second act is set in Detroit where Adam and Eve reunite as they cope with Adam’s longing to die as well as the beauty that is Detroit with all of its ruined homes and places that once made the city so great.

Ava’s arrival would only create trouble in the film’s second act as it plays to not just Adam’s growing dissatisfaction with humanity but also in the realization that humanity will get worse. The script would play into how Adam and Eve react to humanity where they would see some of its good but also a lot of bad as the latter becomes more evident as their thirst for clean blood becomes more scarce as time goes by. Even as the third act is set in Tangier where the idea of eternal life becomes less evident forcing Adam and Eve to contemplate their own mortality in a world that is rapidly changing.

Jarmusch’s direction is very unique in not just the environments where he sets the film but also in its approach to style. Notably as it involves scenes where the camera is shooting from above as it spins around to play into the sense of mysticism that vampires feel towards one another. Jarmusch’s direction is quite entrancing as the film is shot entirely at night where it plays into this world where vampires are coping with an ever-changing world as Eve surrounds herself with books while Adam is often surrounded by antique musical instruments and other things to connect with what was great about humanity. While a lot of Jarmusch’s compositions are very simple, he manages to do so much in the images he creates while making Tangier and Detroit characters in the film.

Jarmusch also maintains a sense of detachment in his direction where there aren’t a lot of close-ups in favor to showcase Adam and Eve’s observation with the human race in these different places. Especially in the differences between a place like Tangier with all of its beauty and mystique in comparison to the ruins and thrill that is Detroit. Jarmusch’s usage of zoom lenses and keeping things simple add to the sense of detachment and observation that looms over Adam and Eve while the scenes involving Ava are shown with a sense of danger as she is a character who is out of control and unpredictable like humanity itself. Once the film returns to Tangier, it becomes much more melancholic in the sense of uncertainty into whether Adam and Eve should continue or just fade away like the things they held on to for so many centuries. Overall, Jarmusch creates a very eerie yet evocative film about vampire lovers dealing with the fallacy of eternity.

Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography from its use of dreamy lighting schemes for many of the film‘s exterior settings along with more low-key lights and shades for some of the interior scenes. Editor Affonso Goncalves does brilliant work in the editing with its stylish usage of dissolves and jump-cuts to play into the mystique and the dream-like world of Adam and Eve. Production designer Marco Bittner Rosser, with art director Anja Fromm and set decorators Christiane Krumwiede and Malte Nitsche, does fantastic work with the different homes of Adam and Eve where the latter is filled with antique instruments and vinyl while the latter is filled with lots of books. Costume designer Bina Daigeler does excellent work with the costumes from the white clothes of Eve to the dark clothes of Adam as well as the more stylish clothes that Ava wears.

Special effects makeup artist Joanna Koch and hair designer Gerd Zeiss do superb work with the look of the characters from the hair that Eve and Ava wear as well as the vampire fangs whenever they‘re thirsty for blood. Visual effects supervisor Malte Sarnes does nice work with the minimal visual effects that only involve the speediness of the vampires. Sound designer Robert Hein does terrific work with the sound from the way some of the locations sounds to the mixing in how records are played as well as the entrancing textures that looms into Adam and Eve in their surroundings. The film’s music by Jozef van Wissem is great as it features this very ominous use of the lute instrument to play into the world of Tangier while the score also features cuts from Jarmusch’s band SQURL that features vocals from Zola Jesus and Yasmine Hamdan that is mostly dense and drone-based music. The music soundtrack also features an array of music from Wanda Jackson, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, White Hills, Bill Laswell, Charlie Feathers, and other music ranging from soul to Middle Eastern music.

The casting by Ellen Lewis is incredible as it features appearances from Yasmine Hamdan and the band White Hills plus a terrific small role from Slimane Dazi as Marlowe’s human assistant Bilal. Jeffrey Wright is excellent as Dr. Watson as the medical doctor who is Adam’s blood supplier who never asks questions while Anton Yelchin is fantastic as Adam’s rock n’ roll friend Ian who often does duties for Adam and his only real contact with the outside world that Adam grows to despise. John Hurt is brilliant as the writer Christopher Marlowe who is Eve’s supplier/mentor as he is an observer that had seen everything while dealing with the ever-changing world. Mia Wasikowska is amazing as Eve’s sister Ava who arrives unexpectedly as she likes to cause trouble and often drinks Adam and Eve’s blood supply to quench her thirst.

Finally, there’s Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton in magnificent performances in their respective roles as Adam and Eve. Hiddleston brings in this very reserved approach in his performance to display his discontent with humanity and the modern world while thinking his time might be up. Swinton has a more entrancing quality to her role as someone who lives in the moment as she is often amazed by her surroundings while being aware of how scarce good blood is becoming. Hiddleston and Swinton have this electrifying chemistry that play into their own observation with the world as well as with death as they bring in some humor and a heavy sense of drama to their performances.

Only Lovers Left Alive is a remarkable film from Jim Jarmusch that features great performances from Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. The film is definitely an unconventional take on the vampire lore while injecting back some bite to the genre that is needed following a period of vampire stories that lack bite. Even as it plays to their own encounter with a modern world that becomes less interesting in its exploration of eternity. In the end, Only Lovers Left Alive is a ravishing yet tremendously rich film from Jim Jarmusch.

Jim Jarmusch Films: Permanent Vacation - Stranger than Paradise - Down by Law - Mystery Train - Night on Earth - Dead Man - Year of the Horse - Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai - Coffee & Cigarettes - Broken Flowers - The Limits of Control - Paterson - Gimme Danger - (The Dead Don't Die) - The Auteurs #27: Jim Jarmusch

© thevoid99 2014


ruth said...

I've read quite some polarizing reviews on this but I'm still very much intrigued. I like the unconventional take of a vampire genre, and especially w/ the casting of Tilda Swinton & Tom Hiddleston! I've only seen 1 Jarmusch film so I haven't formed an opinion on him just yet.

thevoid99 said...

I would suggest seeing some of his other films before seeing this one just to prepare for what does as he is a very unconventional and minimalistic filmmaker.

Wendell Ottley said...

You got a lot more out of this than I. It just didn't work for me at all. The cast was great, but the movie as a whole felt stuck in neutral. I'll chalk it up to this one just not being for me.

thevoid99 said...

@Wendell Ottley-Well, I kind of knew what it was going to do as I spent much of last year watching Jim Jarmusch's films. They're definitely minimalist to its core as he's more interested in the idea of eternal life and asks bigger questions. Something you're not going to get from those awful Twilight movies which I think took away a lot of the mystique that made vampires so interesting in the first place.

Mette said...

Agreed! This is the best review I've read of this film so far and I couldn't be happier. It's just so entertaining yet thoughtful and it has a very interesting style to it.

thevoid99 said...

@Mette-Thank you. I'm glad there's someone else that liked it. It's a much smarter film than people want it to be.