ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2014, Jim Jarmusch)
You wanna feel old? Jim Jarmusch is 61 years old. 61. An ostensible contemporary of Spike Lee’s and Steven Soderbergh’s in the American independent scene of the ’80s and ’90s, Jarmusch had always felt to me like a new, cool, and spritely voice in the film world. But now, alas, he has made his first “old man” movie. And although Scorsese’s THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, directed by a 71 year-old, felt fresh and alive (proving that being old doesn’t have to mean being ossified), ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE is a somnambulant disappointment.
Leaning on his two leads as huge crutches, Jarmusch spends most of the film inside Tom Hiddleston’s archaic, gothic house in Detroit, where he noodles around with ancient analog technology in the effort to compose rock music that he must feel sounds authentic. He ogles electric guitars procured for him by eager kid Anton Yelchin, and only leaves the house to buy pure blood from a shady doctor (an amusing Jeffrey Wright) because — oh yeah, Hiddleston is a vampire. But this adoration of ancient technology is every bit of Hiddleston’s character (annoyingly named “Adam,” so his wife can be “Eve,” in what is becoming the hoariest character-naming cliche in movies) — when he talks to his wife via video chat, he projects her image onto an old tube TV and plays the audio through amplified speakers. On the flipside, his wife (the equally busy Tilda Swinton) seems to jump at the changing world of technology, using an iPhone and appreciating as much of modern culture as she can. This couple has been around for several hundred years, but it’s how they see that changing world which separates them as personalities and drives whatever story exists.
This all sounds like fertile thematic content for a vampire movie, but Jarmusch resists doing anything bold with it. He’s never been a bold guy or a loud filmmaker; his best moments (in DEAD MAN and GHOST DOG) sit quietly on the screen and exude effortless cool. But there’s a difference between effortless and no effort — and unfortunately due to extraordinarily slow and lugubrious scenes of repetitive blood-drinking (heavy-handedly treated like heroin among the rock-and-roll culture) and sleeping, it feels like the movie just dies on screen. Every time it tries to muster up plot developments (“hey, let’s introduce an annoying sister into the mix… eh, this is going nowhere, let’s move on”) it does them in predictable and dead-end ways. And while the music is really good and some visuals quite striking (not to mention just how strong Swinton and Hiddleston are), ultimately we get nothing profound out of this exploration of centuries gone by and the lasting effect (or lack thereof) of art and culture. Like the aging rockers on screen, wearing sunglasses at night and never laughing, it’s just too cool for its own good.