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From Only Lovers Left Alive‘s very first moments, with its camera circling around a starry night sky that slowly dissolves into the rotating grooves of a vinyl record, I found myself utterly enchanted by the latest work from Jim Jarmusch. A return to the effortlessly cool work of his early years, the film takes what […]

From
Only Lovers Left Alive‘s very first moments, with its camera
circling around a starry night sky that slowly dissolves into the rotating
grooves of a vinyl record, I found myself utterly enchanted by the latest work
from Jim Jarmusch. A return to the effortlessly cool work of his early years,
the film takes what should be an utterly exhausted genre staple (the vampire)
and crafts an utterly-unique and wondrous world to surround it. And while
Jarmusch usually keeps his audience at arm’s length, only dabbling in
earnestness, this is a profoundly romantic film that achieves a kind of grace
his recent work has only flirted with.

It
almost seems ridiculous that it has taken Jarmusch this long to dabble in
vampiric culture – his characters have always been of the world but separate
from it, and the nighttime travels and antisocial behavior perpetrated by these
blood-suckers are directly in his wheelhouse. Even given how perfectly matched
creator and source material might be here, the film is only a curiosity unless
you have the right performers to pull it off. And both Tilda Swinton and Tom
Hiddleston turn in incredible work here as Adam and Eve, making their
centuries-long love affair entirely believable. Hiddleston’s Adam is worn out
by his seemingly-infinite existence (a musician by trade, he’s recently taken
to composing dirges), but you see the spark lit whenever he interacts with
Swinton’s Eve, a character quickly established to be relentlessly full of
curiosity and wonder. Through quick broad strokes we understand these two very
different characters and understand how they fill a vacancy in one another.
It’s wonderful, deft work from Jarmusch the screenwriter in support of Jarmusch
the director.

The
film also does smart work in keeping the characters separate at the outset,
establishing the rules and manner in which they operate on the outskirts of
society (covertly purchasing blood from medical professionals, lamenting how
humans have managed to poison their own bloodstream) before bringing them
together. The chemistry between both is immense, which means the world in a
film short on incident and long on character work, so we long for these two to
be reunited and savor their time together once it happens. What little bit of
plot that exerts itself comes in the form of Eve’s “sister” Ava, played by an
extremely lively Mia Wasikowska. John Hurt’s fellow vampire, whose identity is
too rich to spoil here and Anton Yelchin’s Ian – Adam’s human go-between that
provides for him no matter how odd the request – also help fill out the
periphery and do fine work.

But
this is Swinton and Hiddleston’s movie, and every electric moment between the
two continually remind us of that. And while the tone struck toward the modern
world is elegiac (there’s an exquisite moment set in the ruins of an old
concert hall/movie palace, and lamenting of what us humans have done to the
world runs throughout the picture), it is important that both of these
characters have a passion for art both classical and modern. Even if us humans
have destroyed the world, it appears the beautiful work we’ve populated it with
is what keeps these characters alive (in a manner of speaking). Which brings me
back to that very first shot. It seems what Jarmusch has done here (as he has
so often throughout his career) is make works of art that while insular, feel
as though they contain multitudes. And while Only Lovers Left Alive
may only end up having as limited a reach as an old blues record, if you look
at it closely enough you can see the entire universe.

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