Only Lovers Left Alive: best film of the year?

only-lovers-left-alive02ONLY Lovers Left Alive is the coolest vampire film you will ever see. The two main vampires Adam (played by Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) live in Detroit and Tangiers and spend their days collecting vintage guitars, playing vinyl, driving around looking at Jack White’s childhood home and wearing sunglasses any time they leave the house. If you needed to see a film that could define the modern hipster experience, this should be the one. Oh, and did I forget to mention it’s also one of the best films of the year?

Jim Jarmusch is very much an actor’s director. He manages to craft films around characters more than plots yet he creates a world that is so vibrant you hardly notice. It’s not difficult to pick apart from the symbolism of our protagonists being called Adam and Eve, yet the blunt simplicity of that idea benefits the film, creating an expected archetypal formula and being able to twist it. Adam is depressed, isolated, bored and near-suicidal, while is joyful, full of life and heavily inspired by humanist beliefs. They create distinct contrasts yet they manage to develop beyond what are simple positions. Having as stark and image-heavy a style as Jarmusch’s could be a challenge but Swinton and Hiddleston deliver their performances with aplomb, pathos and macabre humour.

Developed characters 

Even lesser characters like Anton Yelchin’s stoner assistant to Adam or Jeffrey Wright’s Dr. Watson are afforded a richness of inner life that you wouldn’t expect from minor roles. The film benefits from a great soulful performance by John Hurt as an aged vampire Christopher Marlowe (yes, that one). The only character who doesn’t feel fully there is Mia Wasikowska’s Ava, the wild child younger sister. Despite Wasikowska’s best efforts, the character is built up to be a hell-raising force of nature and the film never seems to convey that.

The film is so relentlessly, hypnotically brilliant in its first hour that its second can hardly match. It starts to fall into the mistake of trying to introduce extra story elements when there is something so much more intoxicating about simply watching these characters live and exist; it is almost a disappointment when the film feels like it needs to tell a story. Yet it is wise enough to know that, even when it falters, Hiddleston and Swinton are able to handle a film’s worth of emotion in a well-timed eyebrow raise and often leaves the dramatic beats simply to their subtle reactions and by god does it work.

Only Lovers shifts through itself like a hazy, mordant dream. It wears its influences on its sleeve and whilst it has humour it never descends into pastiche. It is honestly one of the finest vampire films I have ever seen but then they never say the word or even seem to be that much more than people beyond the occasional dose of blood. It is not a film for those who want fast-paced bloody action or Hollywood romance, but for those who are willing to invite it in and give it patience, it reveals one of the year’s biggest delights so far.