Imagine my excitement for a Jim Jarmusch directed vampire film. As a writer-director, Jarmusch has always been one to focus on authenticity in his various projects. He certainly takes a concept and draws you in, truly believing that everything you are watching is definitely plausible. After witnessing the mythos of vampires get dragged through the mud over the last several years, I was hotly anticipating watching a film that sticks true to vampire lore, or, at least a better representation that’s closer to what made everyone fall in love with the idea. With stars like Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, and John Hurt in tow, it was almost like he couldn’t go wrong.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” tells the story of two vampires who have been in love with each other for centuries. They’ve seen it all, they’ve been through it all. Not even the many turmoils we’ve read about in History books have been able to tear them apart from each other. Through trials and tribulations, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) have been able to thrive through one constant: love. The fact that they’ve been able to procure the best kind of blood to sustain their cravings and keep their secret alive, also helped quite a bit, of course.
There isn’t much to say about the story, other than there isn’t much of one. See, the thing is, there are some ideas that are better in theory than execution. The idea of a day in the life of a modern day vampire sounds like an intriguing concept, and would probably be executed quite well in short form, but to draw it out into feature length territory requires a bit more ingenuity than Jim Jarmusch was willing to put in. Instead of providing an entertaining look into what would be the fascinating life of a vampire attempting to adapt into this modern world after seeing everything that could ever be seen, we are treated to a low-key slow burn of a story in which nothing of significance happens for a good two-thirds. The movie drags because it doesn’t choose to play by the standard three act structure.
So, what’s the story then? Well, Adam is currently a reclusive musician that asks his, seemingly, only confidant left in this world in Ian (Anton Yelchin) to provide him with rare instruments from previous decades. Living in a mansion in the outskirts of Detroit, Adam spends his days recording albums and releasing them mysteriously. His fanbase grows and since nobody knows who this mystery musician is, they start rumors and stories about who the man is. Adam doesn’t care for the fame, he doesn’t want to interact with anyone. To Adam the world is full of “zombies” that have caused a depreciation of any sort of value to society, and he considers them an unappreciative bunch that have let society’s best years pass them. At this point, Adam has gotten bored with life, and is thinking of ending it all.
Eve, on the other hand, is living a lavish life in Tangier where she gets some of the purest blood on Earth from her old associate Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), a vampire that’s been around even longer than she has. (Adam gets his blood from a doctor at a local blood bank that is more than willing to look the other way and not ask any questions about who the man paying him big money for blood might be.) During a phone call to Adam, Eve begins to worry a bit. They’ve been apart for the last few years (the equivalent of a week-long vacation when you’ve been together for hundreds of years) and she begins to dread that the separation may be causing Adam some turmoil, so she agrees to go visit him in Detroit.
Once Eve is in Detroit, someone from their past decides to pay a visit: Ava, Eve’s sister. Ava, is an interesting little vampire with a mischievous attitude that leads the story into its climax, as dull as it might be.
Don’t get me wrong. “Only Lovers Left Alive” isn’t a terrible movie. It has great performances, its visually pleasing, it has great music, and it has very humorous moments, but it uses a lot of pandering as a crutch. It is definitely a film made with the intention of getting people that will understand references to old movies and historical figures and give them a wink and a nudge. Examples: Adam bases all electronic functions on wiring set-ups taught to him specifically by Nikola Tesla and Christopher Marlowe laments ever giving any of his plays to William Shakespeare after seeing how poorly he mishandled them. That kind of stuff is great in smaller doses, but you can’t pump a story full of conversations like this and expect that to fully provide a story full of substance. Sacrificing story for what is essentially a series of conversations amongst incredibly high liberal arts majors isn’t exactly my idea of a well-executed movie.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” has been making the festival rounds since May 2013 when it premiered at Cannes, and has been floating along since. It was released in the United Kingdom on February 21st, and will finally be getting a limited release in US theaters on April 11th.