Jarmush jarringly devoid of cinematic life-blood

Only Lovers Left Alive

Dir: Jim Jarmusch; US drama , 2013, 123 mins; Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska, Jeffery Wright, Anton Yelchin
Premiered March 20 Playing Gloria Bio, Vester Vov vov


The opening is promisingly inventive as we are presented with an expanse of the stars at night. The camera starts to turn until the stars trail, leaving circular paths of light that later dissolve, forming the grooves of a vinyl record, turning on its deck. Next we’re introduced to our protagonists as they lounge languidly about their ‘living’ rooms at opposite ends of the earth.

Starts with Adam and Eve

Adam is played by Tom Hiddleston, currently riding the crest of Marvel’s success with its comic book movieverse in his role as Thor’s bad-boy brother, Loki – a villain that most fans rank far above the titular hero.

His chemistry with Tilda Swinton as Adam’s lover, Eve (groan, I know), is lovely and crackles with potential, regardless of her being 21 years his senior. The reasons why they have put so much distance between themselves are never made clear, but before long, she’s abandoning her exotic life in Tangiers and their dear friend Christopher Marlowe (Hurt), the famous Elizabethan dramatist (here he confirms credit for the works of William Shakespeare – groan), for Detroit to be reunited with the great love of her death.

Sleepy in Detroit

Adam is reclusive and miserable in Detroit, strumming and studying his collection of classic guitars while quietly contemplating suicide. He has an acute disdain for most humans who, in a refreshing turn of phrase, he refers to as ‘zombies’. His reasoning for this stays unexplained, but it is presumably justified by the nature of human flesh: as it ages and decays – no matter how imperceptibly – it provides stark contrast to the vampires’ eternally unchanging physical appearance.

In particular, Adam dislikes humanity’s penchant for crude electronics and has invented his own Tesla-esque generator that powers his house of analogue music equipment, enabling him and his guitar amps to remain off-grid.

Jarmusch has created a memorable, sleepy night-time Detroit for his protagonists to mooch about in, but to be perfectly frank, they do little else. They sleep, gaze into each other’s navels and prance about in vintage velvet (to faintly embarrassing effect).

By the time Eve’s sister Ava (Wasikowska) shows up to inject a change of pace, the film has already outstayed its welcome. As always with Jarmusch, his choice of cast is his strong suit. However, while a great cast can carry a film and even allow turgid dialogue to pass undetected, they will struggle to bring substance or sincerity where there is none.

As bored as the vamps

Certainly, in his fourth decade of filmmaking, Jim Jarmusch remains unchanged: he is still suspiciously overrated. His films are often frustratingly slight, and today his ‘90s sensibilities are exposed to be awkwardly outdated and nowhere near as clever as they ought to be.

Admittedly, for all but the most ardent detractors, his fashionable cast of charming performers will probably rescue this one for him, as is often the case, but Jarmusch appears to be as bored a filmmaker as his vampire lovers.

He wanders the fringes of a creative un-death and, following one of the most lame final shots in cinema history, I couldn’t help but fantasise about doing Jarmusch the kindness of delivering a wooden stake … right through his art.