Implanting the dark heart of Gothic fiction into his signature cinematic carcass of deadpan humour and beatnik contemplation, indie provocateur Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) is the story of two misanthropic vampires who have been in love for centuries, witnessing the humanist revival of classical art and literature and its sad decline into the vulgar and uncouth yield of contemporary populist culture. Vampires have never seemed as stylish and refined as they do here, inhibiting the poise and self-assurance of a Shoreditch hipster with the style and grace of classically-trained concert pianist. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a musician who once gave Schubert a String Quartet, but is now a suicidal romantic.
Adam’s wife, Eve (fellow Brit Tilda Swinton), lives in Tangier, surrounding herself with literature and cavorting with her old acquaintance, the English dramatist and poet Christopher Marlowe (a splendid John Hurt). Adam despises humans, referring to them as “zombies”. However, there’s one person he reviles more than the living dead – Ava (Mia Wasikowska), Eve’s younger, ultra-destructive sister, whose uninvited presence threatens to put an end to the couple’s eternal love. Only Lovers Left Alive superimposes the smug sensibilities of Jarmusch’s divisive The Limits of Control (2009) and intravenously injects its spontaneous narrative with a quite charmingly idiosyncratic charisma. Undeniably indulgent, this wickedly mischievous take on familiar Gothic tropes is a far more human, relatable vampire picture than we’re used to.
This brooding and contemplative tone is tinged with an unassuming comic edge that’s both reverent and self-effacing. Beautifully lensed, Jarmusch’s latest feels like it’s been shot directly through it’s characters’ Ray-Bans, with actors darting in and out of the shadows which hang like portraits in the Detroit flat. Adam’s musical endeavours also see the symphonic menace that usually accompanies the vamp genre replaced with brooding drone metal/post-rock. Most of the film unspools in Adam’s abode, a crumbling mausoleum where guitar cases open like coffins as Hiddleston’s bloodsucker mourns the death of culture. Haunted by a sense of resigned nostalgia, Only Lovers Left Alive is more of a meditative study of the erosion of Western society than a tale of love through the ages. Talk of Byron, Shelley and Tesla develops into discussions on how the world continues to bitch about Darwinism and downloads music like the body contracts diseases. Adam and Eve are the conduits through which Jarmusch can mirror the commercial manner in which we now exist. A melancholic eulogy to the creative faculties, this is a delightfully droll, anaemic attack on a modernist society driven by a thirst for consumption.
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