Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Producer: Jeremy Thomas, Reinhard Brundig
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, Jeffrey Wright, Slimane Dazi, John Hurt
Vampire lovers Adam and Eve have their romantic reunion upended by the unexpected intrusion of Eve’s incorrigible sister.
Tom Hiddleston’s Adam is a reclusive musician who secretly lives as a vampire in his urban Detroit home/studio. Adam occupies his days immersed in stone-faced brooding as he lazily strums guitars, taps a stick on a drum set, and practices the violin. When feeling especially like wallowing in his perpetual ennui, Adam lazes about in a robe listening to droning music as though about to drop unconscious from a heroin-induced coma.
Across the globe in Tangier dwells Tilda Swinton’s Eve. Although separated by thousands of miles, their living arrangements are a matter of personal choice, as she and Adam have solidified their undying love with a marriage dating back centuries. Eve fills her own hours by reading books, chatting on the phone while lying in bed, and packing her suitcases during a lengthy montage. Odds are even regarding which of these two undead sophisticates leads the more pedestrian lifestyle.
Seeing Adam’s sullen sighing over a video chat inspires Eve to reunite with her eternal life/death partner in Michigan. She rests her head in his lap as they quietly recall past days spent with notable historic figures. He takes her on a leisurely drive as they explore the Motor City’s abandoned buildings. Together, they play chess, suck on blood popsicles, and fix a blown fuse.
Does any of the above sound like anything you want to spend two hours watching anyone do, let alone a pair of vampires? No? That is because “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a dreadful bore.
The personalities of “Only Lovers Left Alive” spend more time prone on Adam’s couch than Woody Allen does on his psychiatrist’s, and more time in bed than Brian Wilson did in the 1970’s. A cynic might even speculate that the actors took their roles because the majority of action required by the script is merely sitting, reclining, or emoting exhaustion while whiling away the minutes in malaise.
Indie icon Jim Jarmusch may as well be the poster child for “love it or loathe it” arty aesthetics. His tranquilized vampire romance further adds to the writer/director’s already divisive filmography by doubling as a satire so subtle, its comedic charm is submerged in lethargy.
Debuting in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, “Only Lovers Left Alive” has subsequently gone on tour as a festival favorite racking up printed praise and positive word of mouth. Detractors deride it for perceived pretension and overindulgence in inaction. Defenders laud it for cinematic atmosphere and dialogue-driven interactions, particularly its literate winks about who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays and how Percy Bysshe Shelley was a “pompous ass.” Often absent among these accolades is similar support for a satisfying narrative or truly memorable elements apart from a generalized empathy for Adam and Eve’s unshakable devotion to one another.
Without the automatically attached value of cast and creator pedigrees coloring perceptions favorably, “Only Lovers Left Alive” would likely languish in obscurity under different circumstances. Crackling cinematography and committed performances do as much as they are able to elevate the tedium. But the characters are so inherently dull that forcibly spending this much time in their company becomes a fight to stay focused on the loose moments constituting a snail-paced story.
Jarmusch knows how draining the gloom intentionally is, yet he still has the gumption to take extended sequences of car, air, or foot travel and film them in slow motion to fully tax viewer patience. With so many scenes of sleepy-eyed sulking set to hypnotic hums while everyone onscreen lounges about, the film is a virtual dare to not fall asleep after becoming entranced by excessively depressive despondence. Vampires are not required to bite necks or morph into wolves to be interesting or entertaining, but they should be doing something other than exactly what my next-door neighbor is doing at this very moment.
What of those who argue that is the point? Perhaps Jarmusch’s intention is to illustrate the struggle for finding passion within a damnably insufferable existence of unending melancholy. If that is the case, then I believe there is a more palatable way of accomplishing the same feat artistically without indulging in 123 laborious minutes of sleeping, swirling, and silently pondering a possibly purposeless meaning. The last of which is precisely the response inspired by “Only Lovers Left Alive.”
Review Score: 40