Long story short: With subtle style and a sharp sense of humor, Jim Jarmusch's new film is the coolest vampire tale in ages.
Only Lovers Left Alive will remind you of: Let the Right One In, Byzantium, Broken Flowers, Wings of Desire, Dark City
Review: The dreamy landscape of Only Lovers Left Alive is driven by the nocturnal habits of its two subjects, aptly named Adam and Eve, vampires living today in their own secluded Garden of Eden. Most of us have probably never thought about it, but a vampire's life would be shrouded in silence since they only come out at night. That level of truth is the reason the subject matter is perfectly suited to writer/director Jim Jarmusch's laconic style. Never a director to rush anything, he observes life as it happens.
Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton portray Adam and Eve, respectably, and two skinnier, paler, intense actors you could not find. They're simply the most perfectly-cast vamps in recent screen history, able to bring credibility to roles that have them name-dropping old friends like Lord Byron and Franz Schubert. They glare from behind Manson lamps and wallow angst-riddled as they lament the state of the world they've lived in for far too long. And that's exactly the point. Jarmusch is more interested in the immortality of his characters than in their penchant for blood-sucking.
Only Lovers Left Alive introduces Adam first. A rock legend with a cult following, he's found with a fellow long hair named Ian (Anton Yelchin), who's entered Adam's fortress of solitude to show him some vintage guitars. Ian is Adam's connection to the outside world. The vampire has plenty of cash and little interest in his fans (who gather outside his house sometimes). So Adam's days are spent making music and handing Ian wads of cash for assorted hard to find items. His latest request makes Ian hesitate. Adam wants a single bullet—made of the most dense wood possible. He wants to kill himself.
Jarmusch's visual style is immediately hypnotic. A record spins and dissolves into Adam's Motown apartment, the camera rotating above like in Vertigo. "Funnel of Love" plays, and later, Charlie Feathers. The music is cool and catchy, a contrast to the dire mood inside. Luckily for Adam, things change after a conversation with his wife, Eve, who lives an ocean away in Morocco. They're separated for an unknown reason (safety?) but he convinces her to visit. "The traveling is such a drag." She laments. And it's here we begin to understand Jarmusch's vision for the film. Eve can only travel at night and she will be weak from not being able to feed freely. His vampires are immortal, but their lives are a chore.
The vamps of Only Lovers don't kill humans to feed. In Tangier, Eve has an arrangement with a local shopkeep who sells her sustenance at the behest of another, older vampire. Kit (John Hurt) is, in an inspired detail, actually Christopher Marlowe, the renowned English playwright who wasn't, as it turns out, stabbed in the eye in Deptford and killed over 400 years ago. Only Lovers Left Alive is filled with historical references like this. It's obvious Jarmusch was excited to instill a real intellectualism in his ancient characters. They're old school in the truest sense with wisdom, literally, beyond their years.
In Detroit, Adam has an arrangement with a local hospital worker (Jeffrey Wright) who sells him vials of O negative (the "good stuff") for cash. Adam, Eve, and Kit are all shown feeding early in the film, but it's horror with an elegance. They take a single shot of blood each and delight in the ecstasy of it. With simple camera work depicting the joy in each vampire's face, Jarmusch shows us the truth of their nature, while also reminding us they're living in hiding.
After meeting passionately at Adam's house and retreating from the world for a short while, Only Lovers Left Alive picks up the pace with the arrival of Eve's sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), whom Adam hates for certain past offenses. He objects to her arrival, but Eve wins him over and the young vampire girl immediately makes herself at home. After a rare night out on the town, she puts the Garden at risk and casts Adam and Eve out into the world.
Jarmusch does well creating a world where vampires live in hiding amongst us. Are they his metaphor for the gay community or illegal immigrants perhaps? It's easy to search for topical themes. The film is infused with wonderful insights that bring it to life in the here and now. Regarding Detroit, Adam says, "This place will rise again. There's water here."
The film is also balanced by a subtle, witty sense of humor. Those names, to begin with, are an obvious wink. The appearance of Marlowe, alive and well in 2014, is a fun surprise. He even reveals Shakespeare was a fraud for good measure. Humans are "zombies." The lovers snack on blood popsicles, great during the hot summer nights. The sum of everything is something well-worn made anew: Vampires are basically humans, just with more experience.