If anybody can be trusted to make vampires cool again in the wake of the insipid Twilight series, indie veteran Jim Jarmusch is just the man. Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive is a languid, cultured and very amusing tale of centuries-old vampires that oozes style and sophistication. Tom Hiddleston (Thor, War Horse) and Tilda Swinton (Moonrise Kingdom, Chronicles of Narnia) are perfectly cast as Adam and Eve, a sexy, sallow double act of intelligent, sophisticated vampires whose love affair has spanned centuries. Whilst largely embracing the traditions of the vampire myth – Adam and Eve sleep during the day and live their lives exclusively after dark – this is very much a contemporary tale as our protagonists navigate the perils of their 21st-century existence, such as securing access to blood that is not contaminated in some way by the indulgences of the human population.
Adam is a musician with a cult following whose reclusiveness seems as much a part of his popularity as his music. He lives in a cluttered house in Detroit amongst the decaying ruins of this once great industrial city, the landscape a metaphor for Adam’s state of mind that has him contemplating suicide. He surrounds himself with musical instruments and other artefacts procured by his only friend Ian (Anton Yelchin). Eve, meanwhile, resides in Morocco and the two communicate primarily via webcam. Despite the geographic distance between them, they are clearly very much in love and Eve, sensing Adam’s despondency, travels to Detroit to be with him. The logistical intricacies of organising nighttime-only travel night brings an interesting perspective to the plight of the vampire that is generally overlooked.
Together again, Adam and Eve loll about the house and reminisce about the days of yore, Eve declaring that “Shelly, Byron, and those French assholes I used to hang around with” are responsible for the modern-day stigma against vampires. Adam and Eve represent the people and events of the past about which today’s youth are completely oblivious. These two have witnessed firsthand the deterioration of culture and, for Tom at least, there seems little hope for the future, referring to humans as ‘zombies’. Eve is somewhat less pessimistic and is genuinely excited when Adam shows her the house in which Jack White grew up during one of their late night drives around Detroit. Furthermore, when they visit a bar to watch a band perform, Eve is impressed by the female singer declaring that ‘she’s going to be big star’, to which Tom cynically responds “I hope not, she’s too good for that.”
The unwelcome arrival of Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) lightens the mood somewhat as her greedy, irresponsible, self-centred behaviour epitomises everything that Tom sees as being wrong with the world. Wasikowska is great fun as Ava, a larger-than-life party girl who refuses to buy into Adam’s sombre shtick. Of course, Ava ultimately goes too far and it is Adam and Eve who are forced to clean up the mess and, as a result, flee Detroit for Tangiers. The only other characters of any significance are Eve’s dear friend, fellow vampire and Elizabethan poet Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) and the jittery, jumpy Doctor Watson (Geoffrey Wright), who provides Adam with regular stocks of blood from hospital supplies.
It must be said that Only Lovers Left Alive tracks at a lethargic pace that some audiences might find frustrating. However, those familiar with Jarmusch’s work – Broken Flowers, Dead Man, The Limits of Control – will know what to expect and should be pleased enough with what they see. Set entirely at night, the photography is fabulous and there is certainly fun to be had. Yes, the film is somewhat cynical in its examination of contemporary society, but we are supposed to be seeing the world through the eyes of those who have lived through and influenced so many great moments in history. This is a meandering but refreshing take on vampires that has much in common with Tony Scott’s The Hunger (1983) and proves that a vampire romance in the right hands can, in fact, be something worth seeing.