Sundance Film Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

Posted January 18, 2014 in
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Photo: Gordon A Timpen

Only Lovers Left Alive
Sundance Film Festival
Director: Jim Jarmusch

Since interviewing the director for SLUG Mag’s January cover story and watching each of his films as research, Jim Jarmusch has become a creative hero of mine. His work resonates with me—I feel a sort of kindred spirit with both his philosophies and his execution—and it’s resulted in a much-needed well of inspiration. Thus, when I walked into his latest, Only Lovers Left Alive, the pedestal I’d constructed for the writer-director was perhaps raised unrealistically high. I’m undermining my self-exalted opinion as a film critic from the start, because I’d like for this particular review to be an open dialogue rather than a definitive opinion—which is how one should read ALL reviews, really. Critics are not gods, regardless of their omniscient egos.

Only Lovers Left Alive is Jarmusch’s take on the vampire genre, and the Jarmuschian way of underplaying the "mainstream" draw is the film’s strength. Any violence and seduction that usually defines the myth is all implied. Only one scene could be discomforting in a Sam Raimi sort of way, and it’s immediately addressed with: "That was visual," said by Eve (Tilda Swinton). In fact, what both cynically entertained and perturbed me was the film’s exaggerated self-awareness. The dialogue seemed so jilted in parts, I could predict an oncoming joke, and half expected the actors to look into the camera to say their lines. Was this intentional?

My favorite film of Jarmusch’s is the often negatively criticized Limits of Control. Jarmusch said of the film, which was accused of being slow (well, duh you fucking idiots), that he wanted to make something that didn’t require the audience to think much beyond the surface. Except, I believe the Limits of Control to be his most poetic and satisfyingly close-readable film. Inversely, Only Lovers is full of lofty ideas and intelligent dialogue, as the characters being portrayed are hundreds and even thousands of years old with impeccable memories full of centuries of experiences—parts of it sounded lifted from the Meg and Jack White vignette in Coffee and Cigarettes—but it didn’t seem to break the surface. I can’t decide whether Jim Jarmusch is a pretentious artist who rejects the modern and the mainstream, or if he’s making fun of us and our ideas of him as a pretentious artist, or if he thinks we’re all just a bunch of dolts (or zombies). I guess what I’m trying to say is: If this film was sincere, I felt like I was being babied through it a bit.

OK, that’s the worst of it, but let’s talk highlights, because there are quite a few. First and foremost: the music. Jarmusch lets us know from the second the opening credits begin that the score is not an after-thought. Lutist Jozef Van Wissem, complemented by Jarmusch’s own band, SQÜRL, combine together to make a beautiful, droney, fuzzy soundtrack that’s both rustic and modern, and definitive of the film to the very last note. Special live performances by White Hills and Yasmine Hamdan are visual and aural gifts bestowed to music fans, and Jarmusch makes room in the dialogue to give credit, which I thought was super cool. It’s no secret that Jarmusch is an old-school kind of guy who believes in the purity of analogue over digital, but it looks as though he does appreciate some of the conveniences of technology. All I will say on this matter is "vampire FaceTime." Gearheads will get a hard-on for the many scenes in which musician Adam (Tom Hiddleston) acquires rare, antique guitars and breaks down their attributes like he’s on an episode of Antiques Roadshow produced by PornHub. Those in the mood for romance will find satisfaction in the synergistic relationship between Adam and Eve, whose love and understanding for each other—from my perspective as one half of a similar duo—is best illustrated in their sleeping positions.

I’m a firm believer that the most delicious parts of life are acquired tastes: poetry, beer, dark chocolate, people. As I write this review, I’m realizing that my initial disappointment has led to a lot of curiosity and contemplation, which will inevitably lead to some interesting and passionate discussions, consequently making my brain work harder, lending to a boost of creativity. I’m looking forward to a second screening of the film—make of that and this review what you will. Class dismissed.


Time: 1.20 11:30 AM Venue: Library Center Theatre, Park City
Time: 1.21 11:59 PM Venue: Egyptian Theatre, Park City
Time: 1.24 9 PM Venue: Broadway Centre Cinema 6, Salt Lake City
Time: 1.25 8:45 PM Venue: Egyptian Theatre, Park City