Jim Jarmusch's mixes rock 'n' roll cool with literature in this hugely likeable and very witty vampire flick
Tom Hiddelston and Tilda Swinton are vampire lovers Adam and Eve in Jim Jarmusch's elegant new black comedy. As their names might suggest, they have been an item for, like, forever (well at least 2000 years). In fact, the couple are so bound together that they actually live very far apart - he in splendid isolation in a ramshackle mansion on the outskirts of the ghost town of Detroit and she in mysterious Tangier.
Adam is an anguished rock star amalgam of Nick Cave, Jim Morrison, and Brett Anderson who makes music of almost mythical brilliance. Shrouded in an unwanted mystique, he spends his days moping about in the gothic gloom, becoming increasingly suicidal about humankind’s accelerating descent into venality and stupidity. On the other side of the world, Eve wanders around her luminous village at night, taking coffee with casual friends, and being all gorgeously wraith-like in cashmere and cotton.
Both are beautiful, very cool, and very charming indeed but when Eve supernaturally intimates that Adam is slipping away as his despondency mounts, she speeds to his side to commune with him for the first time in possibly centuries.
From there on, nothing much happens in Only Lovers Left Alive. It becomes a kind of languid character study - an observational tale of two elegantly-wasted vampires who are cursed by their affliction and who try to muster through eternity's trials and tribulations. They pause only occassionally to down neat shots of blood from claret glasses and pass into trance-like ecstasy, like junkies finally getting a fix.
The once proud Motor City provides a shimmering backdrop to the slowly-unfolding narrative. This eerie industrial wasteland is a film maker's paradise and Jarmusch lets his camera linger lovingly over the abandoned streets and once proud houses as Adam and Eve take long car journeys into the night, pointing out local landmarks and discussing art, music, literature and the nature of eternal life.
Playing against type, Mia Wasikowska does a great turn as Eve’s bratty little sister making a very unwelcome visit to town and a dishevelled John Hurt is also quietly magnificent as Christopher “Kit” Marlowe, a dear old friend of Eve’s from the 16th century, who provides a bitter commentary about history’s great injustices, not least that sordid business with Shakespeare.
Jarmusch’s script crackles with arch literary and rock 'n' roll references, and there is much drollery and some great whizz bang one-liners. The director’s characteristic high-cool and gift for creating sultry atmospheres and memorable characters is in fine form.
Gibson and Gretsch guitars are fetishised, Detroit is a ruined citadel, and Adam and Eve are elegant and poised in their age-old malaise. Only Lovers Left Alive could very well become a genre classic.