Adam and Eve are husband and wife, vampire lovers who have been together through many centuries. Adam (Tom Hiddlestone), the “suicidally romantic scoundrel” is all black hair and brooding eyes, Eve (Tilda Swinton) pallid white and ghostly, the yin to his yang. However, Eve is in Tangier, Adam in Detroit. Despite not being able to live without each other, they live apart. Eve spends her time in Morocco with fellow vampire and some-time playwright Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), while Adam has carved out a career as a musician, one who had gained cult status through his reclusive nature and lack of public appearances. Marlow and Adam begin to dream of Eve’s little sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), who soon makes an appearance and leaves a trail of destruction in her wake.
Humans are known to the vampires as zombies, with Adam in a perpetual state of despair at the way we treat the world. “Now they’ve succeeded in contaminating their own blood, never mind their water” he opines. In this context Detroit acts as a dramatic and desolate backdrop to the tale, a symbol of the zombie world’s state of decline. Jarmusch puts not just music and literature under the microscope, but science too, with a long-running thread about the Theory of Entanglement through the film.
“How can you have lived for so long and still not get it? This self-obsession is a waste of living. It could be spent on surviving things, appreciating nature, nurturing kindness and friendship… and DANCING. “- Eve
As you’d expect from a Jim Jarmusch film, music plays a central role. Hiddlestone plays all the instruments he handles with no movie star miming. Coupled with immaculate sound editing and a so-cool-it-hurts soundtrack, ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ is a music-nerd fest of the highest order. They even throw in a drive-by of Jack White’s house for good measure. Drinking blood is like hit of drugs for these vampires, and we all know drugs and rock and roll go together like, well, drugs and rock and roll. Vampires therefore make excellent rock stars.
Swinton and Hiddlestone are immaculate as the centuries-old lovers, their characters sleep-walking through the modern age with both a sense of disdain and disenchantment. Adam lives almost entirely within his own mind, and within his small flat, so it is up to Eve to bring a sense of dynamism to the relationship, which gives Tilda Swinton a rare chance to showcase her softer side. The pair work brilliantly together, and conjure the illusion there is a deep bond between them.
The languorous romantic tone of the film gives way to bursts of dry gallows humour. In fact, moments are very funny, if so deadpan they could be missed, although Mr Hiddlestone largely keeps his romantically stoney facade intact. The obsession with music coupled with the beautiful visuals do occasionally make you feel like you have accidentally stumbled across the latest video for A Place to Bury Strangers, but there is enough substance to this stylish piece to bring you back to the story at hand.
Cool, funny and romantic, but as far from a romantic comedy as you can get, ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ gets the blood pumping back into the tired vampire canon. It may be too niche for many, and too hip for many more, but if music, art and a dissection of modern society are your thing you will love it.
8 out of 10