“Only lovers left alive” is a new film from director Jim Jarmusch. It is a love story intertwined with a vampire story and it’s in keeping with the artistic and idiosyncratic style that is peculiar to this film maker.
Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a vampire and a world-weary rock musician who is content to live in isolation, recording music and making the occasional trip to the local hospital to collect blood supplies. He shuns attention and chooses to live in a tumbledown mansion in a dilapidated suburb of Detroit . Eve (Tilda Swinton) is his vampire wife and we first encounter her on one of her nocturnal errands through the streets of Tangier. With alabaster skin and a mane of white blond hair she has an unearthly quality about her.
The explanation for Eve’s enigmatic and timeless appearance is revealed when we realise she and Adam have been around a long time – centuries in fact. Among past acquaintances they can list the likes of Byron, Shelley, Darwin, Shakespeare and Copernicus. They’ve survived plagues, wars and great upheavals and they speak nostalgically and fondly of times past. Adam in particular is disillusioned by the version of the modern world in which he finds himself. The abandoned and urban wasteland that is Detroit is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. We have the feeling of a civilisation sliding inevitably towards its end. Humans or “zombies” as they are disparagingly referred to, have thrown the natural world out of sync. Such is Adam’s despair that Eve leaves Morocco to be by his side.
All this sounds very sombre indeed but the film is not without its moments of wry humour. Eve’s vampire sister comes to visit and she is fun and reckless. She provides an amusing contrast to the gloomy and moody Adam, and trouble loves her. The inconveniences of life for a modern vampire generate quirky humorous moments, thinking of original passport names when you’ve been around for eons isn’t easy or finding novel ways to consume your necessary daily blood ration. Anyone for an O-negative ice pop?
Music and literature are central to the film and very much interwoven into the story. Adam’s lair is crammed full of old records and recording equipment, Eve travels with cases of books. Jim Jarmusch himself, along with his band Sqürl, were involved in creating some of the excellent and eclectic musical score that adds to the ambiance.
For a vampire movie there is a surprisingly lack of gore and some are sure to be disappointed by the low body count. But you get the impression Jarmusch set out to surprise. In this film he uses great casting, setting, and music to create an ambiance that feels very original and fresh, despite its musty mansion location. The beauty of these modern vampires love story and the sad isolation of their existence is exquisitely captured. It makes for a unique and memorable movie.