Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive is one of my favorite films of 2014, partially because it revives an editing technique that has been long dead: the dissolve.
Commonly used to suggest a passage of time, the dissolve has not aged well. It's a technique that has fallen out of style in lieu of fast paced, hard-cutting, blockbusters. In this case, Jim Jarmusch and editor Affonso Gonçalves, who has some serious chops with Beasts of the Southern Wild and Winter's Bone under his belt, use the dissolve with purpose that should be recognized. Through the use of dissolves, Jarmsuch is allows the audience to identify with vampires who lived on this planet for centuries, as well as establish the the tight, inter-twined connection between vampire lovers Adam and Eve.
The film establishes a dissolve-heavy convention early on. We first see a record spinning, which gradually dissolves to images of Adam (Tom Hiddleston) playing instruments, sprawled on his couch. These kinds of sequences are weaved throughout the film.
The strong presence of these dissolves creates a slowed pace. Since we see so many dissolves, we are also constantly hit with dissolve's basic intention, a passage of time. The audience feels like a whole lot of time has passed, so they are able to identify with these two vampires who have lived on for centuries. If you exist that long, life must start to feel like one big dissolving blur, which is what the audience is able to feel this through dissolves.
Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, portraying Adam and Eve, are nuanced performers. Adam, a recluse vampire who writes and record music in his own private studio, says so much about his character in his reserved stature. While Eve is filled with wonder and a zest for life. This contrast in characters is seen through the locations.
The film begins with Eve walking through the exotic and culturally vibrant city of Tangier, while Adam dwells in downtrodden Detroit. Despite their polarizing differences on the surface, it's the rekindling of their relationship that's the centerpiece of the film, structured around Albert Einstein's entanglement theory. The theory states that two objects become so entangled that they can affect one another even if placed at different ends of the universe. This connection between Adam and Eve is visually represented through dissolves.
Before Eve travels to Detroit, her actions and Adam's actions mirror each other. We see both of them seek out blood. They find joy from artistic passions, whether it's Eve's books or Adam's music. But rather than cutting back and forth from Detroit to Tangier, we dissolve. And not quick dissolves, but gradual ones. Sometimes they're so gradual, that the two images are overlaid on top of each other. This kind of blurring, and melding is a unifying effect that suggests they're strong connection, transcending their physical location.
If someone went into this film and changed all these dissolves into hard cuts, it would radically alter its impact on the audience. The audience wouldn't feel this unified connection that has lasted for centuries, which is the crux of Only Lovers Left Alive. There's something romantic about a love that lasts for hundreds of years. Jarmsuch is able to achieve this effect through the dissolves.