Nearly four years after the release of Limits of Control, writer/director Jim Jarmusch has returned to filmmaking with the 21st century gothic vampire film, Only Lovers Left Alive. The film showcases Jarmusch’s talents as not only an American art film director, but his unfaltering dedication to the movement as well. Every shot is beautifully composed, with a specific color scheme and musical accompaniment, creating the tone of the environment that the characters are placed in. Faithful to the art film, Only Lovers does not possess a strong presence of plot and lacks a fully unified conclusion or character motives but nevertheless, manages to function as a post-modern film as it brings in to question topics of history, science, music, art, literature, and fame. And there is no doubt that the cast of Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska and John Hurt certainly contribute to the psychedelic atmosphere of Jarmusch’s gothic-rock vampire flick.
The film follows Adam and Eve, (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton), a believable representation of two centuries-old lovers, searching for a deeper understanding of humanity and its changing social values, and discovering how their love for each other is the only enduring component in all the centuries they’ve lived together. Adam carries a rather pessimistic view of the world, constantly disappointed by how humanity has ridiculed the brilliant achievements of science and art, and slowly starts to lose any will to continue living his life. Eve, on the other hand, has a more optimistic view of life, claiming that the world is a better place now than it has been before. She finds pleasure in the daily workings of nature, and she sees each day with more hope and promise than her lover. But despite their conflicting views of life, neither can be apart from the other and decide to face the world together.
Although the protagonists of the film are vampires, the film should not be approached as yet another film from the now overused vampire genre. Writer/director Jarmusch uses the vampire character trait as a method of analyzing the philosophical questions of the persistence of love and a way showing how humanity has approached the developments in science, art, literature and music, while avoiding the political commentary. In effect, the vampire characters become a group that functions as a separate entity, with their own rules and regulations. They are forced to coexist in a world with humans, or whom they call “zombies”, even though they are not particularly fond of, despite their need for human blood. The human characters featured in the film, played by Anton Yelchin and Jeffrey Wright, are supporting characters that merely fit the needs of the protagonists, and occasionally provide a link to the world around them, allowing Hiddleston and Swinton to make further remarks on contemporary culture and society.
Students of the humanities, such as myself, will particularly enjoy the plot of this film, but I would also recommend Only Lovers to film and fine art students who may find inspiration in Jarmusch’s Art film techniques. The director utilizes chiaroscuro cinematography, featuring clear blues and reddish yellows hues as the protagonists navigate their way around two very different locations of Detroit and Tanger. Both locations almost become characters in the film itself, as they symbolize the decay of contemporary culture and the once great promises of civilization. Detroit can be seen as a representation of Adam’s views on humanity’s suffering and the inevitable outcome of the way the “zombies” are treating the world.
The film definitely leaves the viewers with something to think about, posing questions about life that are left open to the viewers to decipher, along with the protagonists, who even having lived for centuries are still unable to come up with an answer till present day. One may also find enjoyment in the artistic elements of the film and the superb acting of the central and supporting actors in Jarmusch’s unique vampire subculture. I would recommend this film to any moviegoer who is searching for an out-of-the-norm experimental art film but not to those who prefer the conventional film style because of the lack of character motivation or a unified conclusion, which is perfectly fine, as it is often unsatisfying to see a movie with open conflicts that are never fully solved.