I didn’t at all expect to like Jim Jarmusch’s vampire movie, much less be as delighted by it as I turned out to be, because the fantastic generally seems to bring out the worst in Jarmusch, the old-mannish cultural critique, and the use of metaphors that only ever are metaphors but never feel real as part of the world of a film.
None of these things actually apply here, the cultural critique is wry, the metaphors work on the level of the film’s reality too, and most of what sometimes feels pretentious about Jarmusch’s work is charming and seems perfectly placed in context of a film that follows various ideas of romance, examines diverse concepts of bohemianism and love, digs up echoes of drug culture, and makes a lot of wry jokes about it all; well, expect for the love but then Jarmusch, like me, seems to be the kind of romantic who doesn’t find love very funny - but sometimes life-saving.
Visually, this might be the most attractive Jarmusch film I’ve seen, dominated by a sense of fluid movement, the camera dancing to the film’s (impeccable) soundtrack, and colours of intense expressivity and beauty that belie the idea a film only taking place by night couldn’t make this kind of use of colours, particularly in the times of the orange and teal filters.There’s a sense of romantic poetry about it all, though not the po-faced kind (the film dutifully makes fun of Byron and Shelley) but the one that can and will laugh about itself from time to time. This being a Jarmusch film, there’s not much of a plot – though there’s so much going on on every other level I’m not sure who would mind the absence – and there’s time for the film to just swerve off into various directions and talk about various ideas and things its director/writer is interested in. Though, I would argue, these seeming detours actually belong into the particular argument about the importance of art and science the film also makes, and the film and the argument would be much weakened without them.
Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are pretty fantastic here, Swinton really playing on the otherworldliness of her looks and her very individual kind of beauty without the cliché using her instead of the other way round; there’s also a nice ironic juxtaposition in the fact she’s actually the more down to earth of our central vampire couple.
And as if all that weren’t enough to make at least me all kinds of happy, John Hurt plays Christopher Marlowe, who is a vampire, and alive, and…but that would be telling what is rather more usefully experienced.