Vampires have done almost every which way in films, why not as hipsters? And who better to make such a movie than the ultimate hipster indie director, Jim Jarmusch? The result is Only Lovers Left Alive, which is both a commentary on immortality and a joke.
Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton star as two vampires, named Adam and Eve, who are hundreds of years old. They are husband and wife (they get married every so often) but as the film opens they are living in separate cities; he in Detroit, she in Tangiers. He is a musician, his cluttered house filled with guitars and recording equipment. She bides her time in Tangiers, hanging out with fellow vampire Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt). Yes, the Christopher Marlowe.
She decides to come visit him, and he shows her the sites in Detroit, which mostly consists of Jack White’s boyhood home. Jarmusch perfectly captures the Motor City as it is today, a decaying, largely abandoned city of feral animals and ghosts. Adam’s house, a decrepit but once beautiful Victorian, is emblematic of the city’s fate, as is the Michigan Theater, a former movie palace now in ruin.
The pair have long stopped feeding on humans, and get their blood from doctors. Adam pays calls on a compliant doctor (Jeffrey Wright), who works in the blood bank. They keep their identities hidden, and avoid humans (whom Adam calls “zombies”). He has only one that he interacts with (Anton Yelchin), who gets him instruments and anything else he needs.
This first part of the film illustrates the paradox of immortality. The two have been around so long they have been able to amass great knowledge–Eve can speed-read in many languages, while Adam is a musical genius (he once gave Schubert an adaggio to call his own). They have known many famous people, though not all fondly–Adam says that Lord Byron was a “pompous ass.” But they are also enveloped in a fog of ennui. They never go out and experience things, though Eve would like to, as she is more likely to enjoy nature. When she finds a gun with a wooden bullet in it in Adam’s house she questions why he would want to end all this.
The plot kicks into gear when, borrowing from sit-coms immemorial, Eve’s wacky sister shows up. She’s also a vampire, played by Mia Wasikowska. She is all id, drinking too much blood and always wanting to party. She will do something that will end Adam’s reclusive idyll, and the pair will flee back to Tangiers.
I enjoyed much of this film, even if vampires have been done to death. We get some of the tropes of the genre–they can’t go out at night, etc., but without some of the rigid protocol of other vampire pictures. They worry less about sunlight than drinking contaminated blood, which is another reason to stick with stuff from blood banks. Blessedly we are spared the usual vampire hierarchy, which so dominates other vampire tales, like Twilight and True Blood. I do wonder where they get all their money–Adam plays for things with wads of cash, and Eve has credit cards!
As with other Jarmusch films, the film has a dead-pan sense of humor. I had to chuckled at one line, when Adam says, “You drank Ian.” When he visits the blood bank he wears a name tag announcing that he is “Dr. Faust.” The film also supposes that Marlowe wrote Shakespeare’s plays–his room has a photo of the bard pinned to the wall with a knife.
Swinton, who already looks like a space alien, really looks witchy here, with long hair the color of straw, and Hiddleston looks like every punk musician who’s ever worn nothing but black.
My grade for Only Lovers Left Alive: B.