The Genius of Only Lovers Left Alive

So, at the time of writing, it’s Valentine’s day, so I thought I would talk about one of my favourite romantic films.

Jim Jarmusch interests me as a filmmaker due to the way he uses music in his films – they become as integral a part of the story’s development as anything else. He contracted Neil Young to work with him on Dead Man and RZA for Ghost Dog, and watching his interviews where he discusses the creative process working with the composers makes for fascinating viewing for film and music geeks like me.

Jarmusch’s own band made most of the score for OLLA, but he also contracted a Dutch lute player for part of it, to give the film an anti-contemporary feeling, which fits the film’s plot.

A vampiric couple, played by Tom Hiddlestone and Tilda Swinton, struggle with essentially a midlife crisis, but, Hiddlestone especially, becoming disillusioned with immortality. At the same time as trying to fit in to a modern society whilst being hundreds of years old, they receive a visit from Swinton’s sister (Mia Wasikowska), who is much younger and more reckless. She drinks most of their stocks of blood, which leads them to turn to Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) for help as modern humans are poisoning their own blood through the degradation of the environment.

Despite nuggets of socio-political satire of modern living and Jarmusch’s fondness for the Shakespeare-didn’t-write-his-own-plays conspiracy theory; the film centres around Hiddlestone and Swinton’s relationship and its struggles after centuries of monogamy. The lead performances are fantastic and make the relationship compelling, which is augmented by the soundtrack. In-film, Hiddlestone is a reclusive musician, and the soundtrack is mostly comprised of songs that he is writing. The music has a soulfully mournful, yet otherworldly painful tone to it and reflects the tumultuous lives of the hidden vampires.

It sounds like a glum and intense watch, but there is a lot of humour as well, especially when Wasikowska enters the mix. The three come across like Victorians in a 90s sitcom family.

Anyone who knows the tortured artist feeling will enjoy this film, and while I’ve summarised the main plot points and the film’s successes, I will leave you here with not too many details as Only Lovers Left Alive benefits from the viewer exploring its world and characters through the image and sound presented deftly by Jarmusch’s singularly creative vision.

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