Jim Jarmusch has reinvigorated the vampire genre. Only Lovers Left Alive is less genre, however, and more of a hangout movie with Adam and Eve (how romantic, Jim), two old souls (literally) full of culture, intelligence, and world weariness. The two are borderline hipsters, but seeing as they’re centuries old vampires, I found it easily forgivable, and even endearing.
Tom Hiddleston is Adam, the far younger, far moodier, and far more cynical of the lovers. He and Eve live a world apart, she in the exotic Tangier and he in Detroit, a city turned into its own exotic, antique relic by Jarmusch’s camera. As Adam’s depression begins to get the better of him Eve rushes to his aid. The film simultaneously shuns genre tropes (relatively plotless, droning, monotonous) and embraces them, with Jarmusch colorfully, and often humorously, building some vampiric background for his characters (he wryly “proves” that Christopher Marlowe wrote much of Shakespeare’s work). Eve (the ever-enigmatic Tilda Swinton) is much older, speaking of the Inquisitions and Crusades. They’re drawn to blood, immortal, and ask permission before entering another’s house.
Ultimately, though, Only Lovers disregards its genre confines, favoring woozy melancholy and the mundane, humanizing Adam and Eve thoroughly. It’s immediately apparent that Tilda Swinton was born to play a vampire, as she has always had that ethereal quality, that other-worldliness, that she puts to fantastic use here. She and Hiddleston have a radiant and whimsical chemistry, without which the film would fall flat. Eve is much more optimistic than Adam, and she’s definitely thousands of years older. She doesn’t disregard humans as “zombies,” instead regarding them with an amused playfulness and openness.
It’s an effortlessly cool film, aided by its sublime music, intricate messy production design (perhaps my favorite of the year), and protagonists donning sunglasses when out in public. It’s also a romantic film, focusing on Adam and Eve, and their love. They become the only lovers left alive as the film becomes slightly chastising, with Jarmusch lamenting culture lost and unappreciated, his vampires disappointed in the way us zombies are ruining everything. The gleeful Mia Wasikowska plays Ava, a vampire, old in years but young in spirit. Her immaturity, recklessness, and exuberance acting as Jarmusch’s condemnation and celebration of today’s youth, eventually leaning more towards the former (a youthful band at a youthful club’s lyrics state “we’re all the same”). Only Lovers Left Alive champions love and romanticism, as much as it is lamenting their decay. Ultimately though it’s an interesting and compelling love story, with two wonderful characters, brought to life by two wonderful actors, emphasizing the importance of romance, love, survival, and dancing.