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★★★★★ (A Must-See)

Director: Jim Jarmusch


You will always have a general idea of a Jim Jarmusch film before you watch it—there’s a lot of philosophizing around a groovy atmosphere. Maybe there will be a plot, maybe there won’t. I’ve been a fan of his since Coffee and Cigarettes was released, and I’m not alone. Jarmusch has a large fanbase of cinephiles who love meaningful films in a world where caveman schlock rules, so it’s disappointing to know that it took years to find the funding for Only Lovers Left Alive, a vampire tale about the disillusionment of someone who will never feel the joy of newness again, wrapped in a love letter to Detroit. If you partake in horror that makes you feel something other than fright, such as Ghost Story or Lake Mungo, then you will enjoy this film. I don’t want to be one of those reviewers who points out that filmmakers like Jarmusch—those who simply want to direct for the sake of art—are dwindling. But I will.

As a history buff, a book nerd, and Tilda Swinton fanatic, this movie has everything I crave, but there are plenty of reasons for anyone to want to watch Only Lovers Left Alive. If you have a Loki love pillow, you get Tom Hiddleston as eye candy in the other main role of Adam, a sullen rocker with soul, bent on his own destruction. If you avoid Jarmusch because of his aimless past offerings, you’ll be happy to know that there’s a thick plot here. If you miss the days of youth and hanging out in coffeeshops filled with cigarette haze, you’ll have flashbacks of being a layabout who ponders the meaning of life without having really lived it yet. And then there’s the vampire aspect, which is always fertile ground for your own “what if’s”. If you were a vampire would you be more like the depressed Adam or his wife, Eve, a bookish woman who still finds delight in the little things?

There is also a romance that spans history and oceans. Having already spent an unknown number of centuries together, Adam and Eve have taken a break to enjoy some alone time—her in Tangier, Morocco and him in Michigan, U.S.A. The hollowed shell of abandoned Detroit is a perfect setting for a horror film (It Follows also did a good job making the most of it), and it is a perfect hiding place for Adam. The empty houses and dark streets match his suicidal mood. There’s nothing there for anyone, just as there’s nothing in the world for him. Even his friendship with a helpful local “zombie” (Anton Yelchin) isn’t enough to ease the pain.

Far away, Eve senses his distress and heads to Detroit at once, only to find out how far he was willing to go to kill himself. Thankfully, her arrival seems to perk Adam up a bit as these two opposites exude absolute love. Eve is optimistic and plucky while the reclusive Adam mopes (Eve and Christopher Marlowe blame his friendship with Lord Byron). Their relationship is one of hard-won patience, of maturity. They compliment one another’s faults and strengths and are a united front, with the exception of Eve’s sister Ava’s (Mia Wasikowska) spontaneous visit. Viewers will understand the position Adam is in when he’s forced to let this annoying vampire brat stay in his home and eat his food and mess with his guitars. The things you do because you love your spouse. This part of the story is wrought with hilarious moments that don’t want a laugh track; the humor is subtle and the audience will nod their head with familiarity—yes, I’ve been there too. Like all of our experiences, this one doesn’t end well for Adam and Eve. A word of advice: if a troublesome relative is visiting for an unknown amount of time, they are never leaving.

Among the many scenes of transcendentalism, and our tour of Detroit’s hidden beauty, there serious issues to worry about. Will Adam kill himself? What is Ava up to? Will Zoomers use their technical wiles to sniff out the house of the hottest new musician on YouTube? One part viewers might find frustrating about Only Lovers Left Alive is that some of these questions are never answered, and the director wouldn’t want it any other way. While The Dead Don’t Die felt like a cheap zombie ripoff, an opportunist film from a director who is not an opportunist, Only Lovers Left Alive is so pure it soars. Like Adam, who spends his days composing music only to give the credit to other musicians, Jarmusch wants his message of Earth’s hard times to just be out there. What’s important is that it exists.

GENRES: Atmospheric, Diverse Characters, Feminist-Friendly, Funny, Monster/Creature

NO AI TRAINING: Without in any way limiting the author’s [and publisher’s] exclusive rights under copyright, any use of this publication to “train” generative artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to generate text is expressly prohibited. The author reserves all rights to license uses of this work for generative AI training and development of machine learning language models.

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