Set against the romantic desolation of Detroit and Tangier, an underground musician, deeply depressed by the direction of human activities, reunites with his resilient and enigmatic lover. Their love story has already endured several centuries at least, but their debauched idyll is soon disrupted by her wild and uncontrollable younger sister. Can these wise but fragile outsiders continue to survive as the modern world collapses around them?
It’s an unconventional love story between a man and woman, Adam (Tom Huddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton). The script by writer/director Jim Jarmusch was partially inspired by the last book published by Mark Twain: The Diaries of Adam and Eve,(though no direct reference to the book is made other than the character’s names.)
These two lovers are archetypal outsiders, classic bohemians, extremely intelligent and sophisticated–yet still in full possession of their animal instincts. They have traveled the world and experienced many remarkable things, always inhabiting the shadowed margins of society. And, like their own love story, their particular perspective on human history spans centuries because they happen to be vampires. Well, it seems these sucking critters are popular with us puny humans who happily succumb to the blood lust of the undead, at least in the movies.
But this is not your usual vampire story. Set in the very distinct cities of Detroit and Tangier, and taking place almost entirely at night, Adam and Eve must have human blood to survive. But they now live in the world of the 21st century where biting the neck of a stranger would be reckless and regressive–for survival, they must be certain the blood that sustains them is pure and free of disease or contamination. And, almost like shadows, they have learned long ago to deftly avoid the attention of any authorities.
Director Jarmusch says the vampire is a resonant metaphor, a way to frame the deeper intentions of the story. Though a love tate, it’s also the story of two exceptionaloutsiders who, given their unusual circumstances, have a vast overview of human and natural history, including stunningachievements, and tragic and brutal failures. Adam and Eve are present state of human life. They are fragile and endangered, susceptible to natural forces, and to theshortsighted behavior ofthose in power.
Like most of Jarmusch’s films, “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a mood piece, a stylish meditation on isolation, loneliness and the intimacy between two supernatural beings who only find peacein each other’s arms. The rest of the world provides no haven or comfort, no balm for their eternal existential pain. The film’s sliver of a plot rests onEve’s little sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), who is also a vampire and drops in on the couple, forcing them to go out on a nightclub crawl with disastrous consequences. But Jarmusch always keeps the pace steady and the temperature low. This is a beguilingly cold picture.
The casting of Hiddleston and Swinton was a good move. The duo emits a particular sort of cool only they seem privy to, accentuating their alienation. Draped in a palette of dark blues and blacks, the film shimmers with an attractive glow with Tom and Tilda following suit. It would seem the actress was destined to play a vampire. Here, she shows it’s in her blood. Tom’s experience playing Shakespearean characters allows him to explore intense emotions which he demonstrates effectively here.
Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, along with cinematographer Yorick Le Saux, has infused “Only Lovers Left Alive” with a slow, dreamy atmosphere that proves impossible to resist, with the movie’s heightened atmosphere perpetuated by the stars’ nicely nuanced performances and, especially by a hypnotic music score.
Everlasting life isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, but Jarmusch has crafted his film to be very entertaining and weird and fitting. Detroit, which needs a positive public relations boost, looks like a place any vampire would comfortably be at home. This is sci-fi with intelligence and literary advantage benefiting from dollops of humor and of course romance. Yes, vampires can have sensitive emotions. Our hero and heroine seem almost human.
“Only Lovers Left Alive,” which is receiving warm praise, is currently in limited release.
Written by: Alex Reynolds