Despite the age difference of the actors - Swinton is a full twenty-one years older than her younger co-star - Hiddleston and Swinton make for a believable couple. The brilliance of their acting is the core of the entire movie. Hiddleston is showing a lot of range here, this is a far cry from the arrogant comedy of his supervillain, Loki. Visually Jarmusch turns them into opposites of each other. Adam's black hair and black suit* matches his dreary view of the world, while Eve has platinum hair the same pale color as her skin skin and white clothing, which alludes to her relative optimism. Most of the film is a long argument between these two immortal watchers of humanity about the worth of our species, who Adam dismissively calls "zombies".
"Only Lovers Left Alive" is essentially a movie without a plot. There is no great threat pushing down upon Adam and Eve, beyond only the passage of time. Perhaps there is the red-herring or two that could signify a plot beginning, but it never emerges as a fully formed danger. Off in the distance there are fans of Adam's music - a kind of shrill mixture of modern rock and 18th century funeral music - who are slowly hunting down his home. Blood is becoming increasingly difficult for vampires to drink since modern humans are filled with a complex chemistry of drugs and chemicals. But most of the film is simply Hiddleston and Swinton either hanging within their moldy nests or driving around the quiet wilderness that is post-urban Michigan. There is this sad sense that these characters may have reached the end of their time here, which in turn, is foreboding for the fate of the human race. And ultimately, this is enough for the movie to work, it doesn't actually need a villain. "Only Lovers Left Alive" is a mournful, soulful film, one that moves with its own quiet speed as it explores the lives of two fascinating people with fangs. It is one of the best movies of 2014 so far.
Joining the two romantic leads is a very small cast of supporting actors, all of whom are fantastic. John Hurt plays an elderly vampire in Tangiers, who is none other than the Elizabethan dramatist, Christopher Marlowe, having out-lived his rival Shakespeare and several English dynasties as well. Kit Marlowe is very much on the end of his life, having been poisoned by the impurities of modern human blood, hobbling himself on crutches while bitterly reminiscing about how his works are completely unknown outside of Literature Majors. Of course, William Shakespeare's works, which he also wrote**, are world classics. Adam's only "zombie" friend is Ian (Anton Yelchin), a young man who works for him. Ian is ignorant of his boss being anything other than a cool eccentric artist, and honestly works for him by acquiring gorgeous classic guitars and - for darker purposes - a custom-made wooden bullet. Then there is Eve's sister, Ava, played by Mia Wasikowska***, an incredibly perky but dangerous vampire, insatiable for blood, who proves to be the most annoying of houseguests when she pops in unexpectedly.
|Vampires are the ultimate hipsters.|
Since "Only Lovers Left Alive" is a movie that is virtually plotless, it is also a film that could be easily misjudged as "slow" or "boring". Again, this is not a horror movie, it is not a typical vampire adventure where the focus is about piling up victims. The focus is instead on the characters and their reactions with the modern world. It seems that Jim Jarmusch is making a very subtle jab at the decay of the United States and its power. Detroit was once considered a wonder city, a model of industrialism and a proud producer of great American products. Now it is a wasteland, somehow darker and more depressing than even Paul Verhoeven's over-the-top predictions of its future back in the 1980s in "RoboCop". While the characters walk through a real-life parking garbage built out of the shell of a dead grand theater, they argue over whether there are any worthy humans left, and if the undead afterlife is even still worth living. There are quiet whispers of mankind's upcoming doom, as the vampires warn that our wars for oil will spread into more terrible wars over water, as steadily the American Empire loses its grip over the world. And how could we ever hope to bring stability to Baghdad? We cannot even bring stability to the completely empty streets of Motown. And there is something much more terrifying about the state of Detroit, its life blood literally sucked out by the ravages of economics and political unrest, than just a silly Romanian man with fangs running around, murdering rich London ladies.
|Awww... They do love each other!|
* As it turns out, Tom Hiddleston could ever easily play Neil Gaiman's Dream from "Sandman".
** Wait, "Only Lovers Left Alive" is Anti-Stratfordian? BOO, ZERO STARS!
*** Mia Wasikowska is playing essentially the opposite character type from her role as the quiet, disturbed India, in last year's "Stoker". Which by the way, was a movie I mistakenly thought was going to be about vampires when I saw it. It was not, though perhaps there was some vague metaphorical allusion to vampire somewhere. So now a year later, Wasikowska is finally getting her chance to be a Nosferatu, and it is awesome. She is an actress with a lot of ranger.