I remembered I wanted to watch this movie thanks to the Maven of the Eventide (or rather, ze Maven of ze Eventide), who hosts Vampire Reviews YouTube series and gave this particular vampire flick high marks. Also, as I rather enjoyed Paterson, the only Jim Jarmusch movie I’ve previously seen, I was interested to watch more of his stuff. His films are often described as an acquired taste, but based on the two I’ve seen so far, he seems to be my cuppa.
The two lovers of Only Lovers Left Alive are unambiguously vampires, but they’re never referred to as such, and ultimately the film is more about immortality rather than the vampire condition specifically. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are a thrice married couple who, at the beginning of the film, live separate lives for reasons unknown, though they seem to have nothing to do with discord. Eve lives in Tangier, Morocco, where her undead company consists of Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), the Elizabethan playwright who, in this movie, wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare. Adam resides in a crumbling mansion on the outskirts of Detroit, devoting his night-time to writing and recording music. They’re both cool, worldly and sophisticated creatures with a passion for art and science; their dwellings burst with the riches of rare books and musical instruments collected over the centuries.
While Eve is upbeat and resilient, a survivor, mournful Adam is given to black moods and gloom that only the presence of his wife and soulmate can relieve. Their reunion is what can loosely be described as the story, though Jarmusch’s film is rather more concerned with maintaining a rich luscious atmosphere and exploring the couple’s dynamic. Long stretches pass with Adam and Eve as the only characters onscreen, hanging around the mansion or driving around the eerie, silent outskirts of Detroit at night. The only other major players are Ian (Anton Yelchin), a young man who procures rare guitars and other useful things for Adam, and doesn’t ask too many questions about his client’s weird habits (in return, Adam concedes that, for a “zombie”, as he disdainfully calls humans, Ian is alright). There’s also a havoc-wreaking visit from Eve’s bratty younger sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), which disrupts the couple’s carefully arranged lives.
The pace is deliberate and there’s barely anything actually happening onscreen, but I found the movie beautiful and absorbing. It helps to have two captivating performers at its centre. With her shock of ghostly pale hair, Tilda Swinton exudes otherworldly cool, while Hiddleston is perfectly cast as a brooding Byronic immortal. Despite their aloofness, there’s a lot of warmth found in Adam and Eve’s relationship, and you can never see them as just monsters.