Some films are so deeply cool, you feel cool by association just basking in their flickering glow. Writer/director Jim Jarmusch’s latest art house happening, Only Lovers Left Alive, is definitely this rare sort of cinematic experience. A languorous, gorgeously detailed meditation on endless love, the film stars Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as a vampire couple with impeccable taste. Hiddleston sets the tone in the film’s opening scenes as Adam, an undead musical savant struggling with a deep depression brought on by the stupidity of human folly. His funk is so deep, in fact, that his estranged, centuries-old lover Eve (Swinton), travels from her literary hideaway in Tangier to his gothic outpost in Detroit to ease his troubled mind.
The tale twists a bit when Eve’s wildly unpredictable little sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) drops in unannounced and shakes up the pair’s cloistered reunion. But overall, notions of plot in the traditional sense do not apply here. Instead, Jarmusch uses the framework of his characters’ eternal love affair as an opportunity to school his audience on what cultural and intellectual movements of the last few centuries he believes deserve to stand the test of time. Adam’s lair is lined with framed portraits of a creative lineage that spans from Marlowe to Poe to Wilde to Iggy Pop. His antique guitars are propped up against state-of-the-art mixing equipment while carefully-curated highlights from the history of recoded sound spin deliberately on his turntable. The couple rhapsodizes equally over Nikola Tesla and Jack White as they cruise Detroit’s abandoned streets, blithely anticipating the coming demise of civilization as we know it.
For viewers accustomed to big studio vampire flicks that boast buckets of blood and heart-pounding action, this artful portrait may come as an unwelcome surprise. But for those who value style as highly as substance, Only Lovers Left Alive is the most satisfying stab at the undead since 1983’s The Hunger. –Emily Rems
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