If Jarmusch set out to film the coolest vampire movie ever made, he may have succeeded. It helps that it’s about stuff like immortality and eternal love without speaking philosophically about those things, just making wisecracks around the edge of the topics. It does speak directly to human society’s tendency to destroy itself, though.
Tilda Swinton and Loki play the lead couple, with Mia “Stoker” Wasikowska as Tilda’s unwelcome sister, who kills Loki’s only human kinda-friend, Anton “Charlie Bartlett” Yelchin. There’s also old family friend John Hurt, and briefly, blood-supplying doctor Jeffrey Wright, plus a Lebanese singer and an indie rock band. For a couple who’ve lived so long, they don’t seem to have a very reliable blood supply, so when John Hurt dies drinking diseased blood, the others slump around looking hopeless before finding a young couple to pounce on.
A. Tracy picks the film apart in Cinema Scope and argues that it didn’t live up to his potential. I see his point and it’s fair criticism (not too sure about his attack on The Limits of Control though), but I found very much to enjoy in the movie. It helps that the music was on my wavelength, from the introductory slowed-down cover of Funnel of Love to the score by Jarmusch and Jozef van Wissem which I played daily for my first couple weeks at work.
As good old George A. Romero’s use of [zombies] for a leftist critique of rampaging capitalism and middle-class apathy has evolved, in this fast-zombie era, into a stealth right-wing vision of the revolt of the underclass hordes, the less overtly political vampire genre has more and more made vampirism a marker of cultural elitism . . . This, of course, is the central—and, conceptually if not in execution, very funny—joke of Only Lovers’ premise: vampires as the ultimate in world-weary hipsters, immortality granting them the ability to quite literally be there for and have seen everything before you did.
On one, very prominent, level, this is what Only Lovers boils down to: a lament by the culturally and cultishly cool about the injustices visited upon the great (themselves included, perhaps) at the hands of the philistine “zombies” who have snuffed out the brightest lights of their culture while poisoning the planet.