Elegant and decadent, Jim Jarmusch’s elusive exploration of a group of ageing vampires wears its languid pace proudly, painting a rich and veritably authentic portrait of individuals whose memories date back a thousand years.With a slight frame upon which to hang its wares, the story takes a distinct second place to establishing a convincing point-of-view for these otherworldly entities. It engulfs you in the very same contemplative near-trance within which they live their all-but eternal lives, tangentially striking the surface of the realm within which the ‘zombies’ exist – whom they regard of as the whole human race, and who seem, to them, destined to consume themselves – only insofar as they need to procure blood.Tom Hiddleston puts in an admirably restrained performance as Adam, a disenchanted vampire who is contemplating death. Tilda Swinton overshadows him, however, as his partner, Eve, who lives abroad and returns to him, sensing that there is something wrong. Swinton is utterly compelling in every single scene, and certainly looks the part, bringing a cold but loving side to her life partner. Strong support comes from the ever-reliable John Hurt, as an even older vampire who is truly near the end of his days, and Mia Wasikowska as Eve’s precocious younger sister, with Jeffrey Wright and an almost-unrecognisable Anton Yelchin playing curious humans drawn into the lives of these creatures.
Cleverly drip-feeding you hints about the identities of these creatures – who have made their mark in history across the ages – Jarmusch offers up a highly rare insight into immortality; one which vampire movies seldom take the time to craft in a realistic fashion. Rarely showing conventional movie vampire traits (they ‘talk’ about the ramifications of garlic and crossing thresholds; and are limited to night-time travel, but mostly these notions are peripheral – and, indeed, the deleted footage reveals much more was cut; even effects-work showing their vampiric abilities), these characters are almost like phantoms; floating through the ages, always in the shadows.
Jarmusch also paints a sweeping portrait of a human world in ruins, accentuating the disillusioned feelings of the lead character by showing him endlessly cruising the abandoned, derelict streets of real-life Detroit – a veritable urban graveyard – in his homemade electric Jag. Shown to be a skilled engineer, his technological advancements are far beyond anything we know, but are explained away as further part of his disenchantment – he believes scientific pioneers across the ages have been stifled. He is also something of a musical genius, having ‘leant’ various pieces of music to several artists across the ages, and living in a room-full of antique guitars, which he has been collecting for some time. It’s his escape from the world around him; a world which is eating itself alive and which may not survive.
Vampire flicks often trade in the notion that immortality can become exhausting, but Jarmusch's contemplative study shows it.
Of course painting this kind of sumptuous landscape comes at the expense of conventional pacing, with Jarmusch’s movie playing like a piece of classical music which sweeps over you and which cannot be rushed or hurried along. It’s no coincidence that music plays such an integral part of the feature, with an eclectic, unusual soundtrack that dominates the proceedings – and a haunting live performance from a Lebanese singer, which is utterly stunning – as it reminds us of the beauty within this world that has existed for hundreds of years. Jarmusch takes his time, as is perhaps necessary to show what living for an eternity would feel like (particularly in a world populated by people who are repeatedly trying to destroy themselves), and this approach may well turn off some viewers, but if you allow yourself to, you may well get absorbed into what is an undeniably exquisite experience.
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