Considering the genre’s proliferation across various mediums over the last few years, it’s perhaps appropriate that Jim Jarmusch would now indulge the impulse to direct a vampire movie. After all, vampires have traditionally been regarded as the most suave, most elegantly withdrawn of all horror myths, and for over 30 years now, Jarmusch has been the most naturally cool, unconsciously influential of American filmmakers. Many of his characters proceed stoically, silently, and aloofly; this is their lot, however natural. Only Lovers Left Alive, then, seems like an inevitability for the independent iconoclast as much as it does an odd genre diversion.
Jarmusch’s work has only grown more opaque and dreamy as he’s matured, a perfectly introspective realm for the brooding, spellbound protagonists he outlines in this hypnotic tale of eternal amour fou. Starring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as—wait for it—Adam and Eve, two transatlantic undead lovers whose distance is alleviated partly by internet video calls wherein Adam laments his self-imposed status as a reclusive underground musician while Eve mourns the impending passing of her slowly withering father figure and elder vampire, Marlowe (John Hurt), the film patiently establishes a pace and atmosphere reflective of its characters’ forlorn ennui. These two need few external influences when in each others’ midst, the human “zombies” of the outside world functional only in as much as they can mitigate a few of the inherent limitations of literally living in the shadows.
As in his last film, the divisively experimental The Limits of Control, Jarmusch forgoes much in the way of narrative. Besides a mid-film subplot involving Eve’s sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), the film is given over largely to bookending acts of existential conversations between Adam and Eve upon their reunion in Detroit and retreat to Tangier, respectively, and contemplative instrumental passages soundtracked by Jozef van Wissem, with additional contributions from one of Jarmusch’s own bands, Sqürl, and some diagetic use of mid-century blues and R&B. Jarmusch has consistently emphasized the musical aspects of his films, often casting musicians, writing narratives centered around artists, and highlighting original score contributions, allowing the two mediums to work in communion with one another while functioning on the same plane of expression. Only Lovers Left Alive is, appropriately, one of his most lyrical works to date.
This move from the minimalist character pieces of his early career to the more expressionist touches of his current period has precipitated a greater, perhaps subconscious, attention to the more intangible traits of Jarmusch’s aesthetic on the part of the viewer. I get the feeling Jarmusch is concerned less with metaphor than he is with simply reflecting a universally unconscious state of existence among all creatures, living or non. Adam and Eve thirst for blood in an effort to survive yet concern themselves with fears similar to those of the living, such as contaminants and intoxicants, privacy, technology and its attendant vulnerabilities, and over-indulging in such pleasurable aberrations. These characters, as unique as they are, are nevertheless of a fundamental relation to that of all Jarmusch creations: Their night on Earth may be one for all eternity, but they, like us, yearn for a paradise stranger than the one afforded.
The Cannes Film Festival runs from May 15—26.