Seeking out the

5000 greatest films

in a century of cinema

Only Lovers Left Alive

Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Produced by Jeremy Thomas and Reinhard Brundig
Written by Jim Jarmusch
With: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Anton Yelchin, and Jeffrey Wright
Cinematography: Yorick Le Saux
Editing: Affonso Gonçalves
Music: Jozef van Wissem
Runtime: 123 min
Release Date: 25 December 2013
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color: Color

It seems unfortunate that Jim Jarmusch’s arty vampire romance, Only Lovers Left Alive, comes at a time when all screens, big and small, are oversaturated with stories of the undead. There’s only so much vampire metaphor to go around these days and every angle on these immortal creatures of the night has already been explored to death. Yet the abundance of projects all nursing at the same thematic vein actually enhances Jarmusch’s story of two very old souls (Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston) who exist in a used-up world of empty excess and exhausted ideals--the world of our modern society. These lovers have lost faith in everything except each other. Hiddleston’s character is a musician still capable of creating impressive work, but no longer able to find value or meaning in it. Swinton, his wife, has cut herself off from most of civilization and now lives in Tangier, alongside another apathetic intellectual vampire, the playwright Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt). As characters that have seen it all and done it all they adroitly represent how many older artists view contemporary culture. Seen through their eyes, the current state of humanity seems as lacking as a vampire’s reflection in a mirror.

Jarmusch’s distinctively droll, laid-back, observational style perfectly conveys these ideas without too much overt sermonizing.  At 123 minutes, this is perhaps too long and indulgent a film to sustain its minimal narrative and conspicuous themes, but the lugubrious pace and heavy tone fit the dark yet impish mood of the characters so well that it’s hard to fault Jarmusch for taking his time. Swinton and Hiddleston alone make the picture worth staying awake through for their impeccable blending of theatricality and understatement. Plus the art-direction by Marco Bittner Rosser is so sumptuously decadent in its dilapidated and antiquated abundance that it’s silly to complain about this mild fever dream of a movie going on for too long. As cool and remote as Only Lovers Left Alive seems at first, it is actually quite warm and accessible by Jarmusch standards.