I’m a survivor, baby
Jim Jarmusch always seems to make films in the same way where he chooses a cast, some locations, a loose plot, music, and sometimes a genre or structure, and the film emerges from that combination of elements. With Only Lovers Left Alive it is Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, Detroit and Tangier, and the vampire genre. Focussing more on the immortality of vampires and how that would shape character is more of what interests Jarmusch instead of vampire lore.
A pragmatic filmmaker, Jarmusch is able to work with structures and constraints of budget and schedule to get the people who he wants in interesting locations. Many times I’ll discover new music or actors or cities after watching one of his films. He shines a light on artists that don’t get the attention they deserve in sly and subtle ways whether it is with Jean-Pierre Melville, samurai, and hip hop in Ghost Dog, or Ethiopian 60s jazz in Broken Flowers. In the same way that the Western is the loose frame for Dead Man, the world of vampires forms the look and context, but it’s about the characters and what they do with their time.
What if you had all the time in the world? How would that change and shape the elements of your personality? In the central relationship between Swinton’s Eve and Hiddleston’s Adam we see a contrast between hope and joy in the world (she loves books and wildlife and is thrilled when she sees a skunk wandering around the abandoned streets of Detroit), and cynicism and depression (he calls non-vampires “zombies” and thinks of ending it all). They’re aging hipsters who are figuring out how to find some sort of connection with the world.
It’s a languorous film with musical interludes and great moments between the central characters and the younger, more impulsive people who focus more on the short term. They make things change and disturb the balance that achieved through time and patience. It’s more about the long-term relationship between Swinton and Hiddleston who have a great chemistry and are the lovers of the title. The music, relationships, and beautiful images are the stuff that dreams and films are made of and I love spending time with them.