Besides Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking Boyhood, Jim Jarmusch’s latest, the aptly titled Only Lovers Left Alive, was the most engrossing moving-going experience for me in 2014. Leave it to Jarmusch, the best filmmaker to ever call Akron, Ohio, home, to make a vampire movie that leaves the now-ubiquitous genre in the dust.
Largely set in the desolate urban landscape of modern-day Detroit, the narcotic narrative follows a pair of centuries-old lovers, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), as they struggle to adapt to a culture that no longer cherishes their friends, artists like Shakespeare-era playwright Christopher Marlowe and 17th-century composer William Lawes.
It’s been a fruitful 12 months for Swinton — see also her bespectacled, toothy villain in Snowpiercer or her equally garish getup as an elderly lady in The Grand Budapest Hotel — an actress who is an acquired taste, a chameleon whose lanky, androgynous physical features and nuanced emotive talents are comfortable in both high-profile Hollywood studio pictures and smaller-scale foreign films.
She meshes wonderfully with a never-better Hiddleston, whose underground-legend-musician Adam is holed up in a dilapidated house where he works on moody soundscapes.
Like a lot of Jarmusch narratives, not much happens plot-wise in Only Lovers Left Alive, which suits the material — few, if any, vampire movies have captured the tedium of everlasting life like this romantic fever dream of a movie. The nighttime sequences in which Adam and Eve drive through Detroit’s decaying neighborhoods are both sad and unexpectedly intoxicating, another instance of Jarmusch finding the beauty in the seemingly mundane.
Jarmusch has tweaked his minimalist approach over the years, but there’s little doubt that Only Lovers Left Alive sprung from the same playful mind that gave us Stranger in Paradise three decades ago. If only he could make movies forever.