If vampires ever existed, I would like to think they’d exist in the form of Jim Jarmusch’s latest creation of characters. To hell with Twilight, Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive bends the vampire genre into the most cool, sincere, and beautiful story about two eternal souls dealing with the mundane rituals of every day life and finding solace in each other for an unending lifetime.
Everything about this movie works so well in creating this moody, dark and realistic world despite it being about two fantasy creatures. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a reclusive musician living in Detroit and Eve (Tilda Swinton) lives half a world away in Tangier. Her only other known contact is Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), you know, the guy who really wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays. He supplies her with blood, because these vampires don’t drink directly from the vein. They get their blood from trusted sources and drink out of tiny goblets, then tilt their heads back in a euphoric trance, it’s like watching a drug addict get his much needed fix. They’re civilized, probably due to modern society’s tendency to notice when people disappear or turn up dead, and also due to an increased risk of drinking infected blood. But let’s face it, they’ve most likely been alive for centuries and even eternal creatures of the night need to evolve, right?
It’s not said how long Adam and Eve have been married, but it is revealed that they celebrated their third marriage some time in the 1800s, that’s quite a long time to be in love. Eve is a lover of literature, while Adam a lover of music. While she surrounds herself with books, Adam surrounds himself with priceless collectible instruments. The only two people he talks to are Ian (Anton Yelchin), a young grungy kid who supplies Adam with whatever he needs in exchange for a wad of cash, and Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright), the man who supplies him with pure O- type blood. Fed up with the world around him and the humans, or “zombies,” as Adam refers to them, he contemplates suicide, asking Ian to find him a wooden bullet. Eve senses Adam’s depression upon speaking to him one night, and decides to travel to Detroit to be with him. When they meet again, it’s like they’ve never been apart. They spend time making love, playing chess, going for drives around Detroit, and sucking on blood popsicles. Everything goes smoothly until an unexpected guest comes to visit them in the form of Eve’s younger sister–the sassy, unpredictable Ava (Mia Wasikowska).
Adam and Eve are like yin and yang, they’re different, but you get a sense that they couldn’t possibly belong anywhere else but with each other. They understand each other, and very clearly need each other. Eve is the light to Adam’s dark, and quite literally, even their wardrobes and their hair are light and dark, they complement each other physically and emotionally.
Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton couldn’t be more perfect for these roles. I feel like they were both born to play vampires at one point in their lives, not to mention, physically, they just work. These lean, pale figures up against a dimly lit background is just some of the beauty in this film. The production design is a whole other thing. I love these sets, especially Adam’s house. It is all cluttered with vintage technology–old TV sets, music equipment, instruments and records. It’s the same thing with Eve’s bedroom in Tangier, books are piled all over the place. It really gives the sense that these two have been living a long time and they have all of these things they’re passionate about that they’ve collected throughout the years to show for it. I love it, I love the clutter, the colors, and the lack of natural lighting, it is perfect for a vampire movie and perfect for the mood Jarmusch is trying to create. The abandoned streets of Detroit and the concrete alleys of Tangier at night seem like two places any vampire would be happy to live.
The other thing I love about this film is that its darkly humorous. You can’t have a movie about vampires living in a modern society without some humor involved in the situations they find themselves in, especially when Wasikowska’s character comes in to stir up some trouble. She’s careless and untamed and looks like she walked right out of 1960s Los Angeles and into present day Detroit. Despite Adam’s qualms about her presence, she stays for a couple of nights until her lack of control and unquenchable thirst for blood gets them all into a bit of trouble. Adam’s reaction to this is priceless, especially because of his very composed, monotonal personality. He’s often funny without trying to be funny, and that’s just one of the qualities he has that draws you in.
Jarmusch has created a beautifully melancholic world with a haunting score to go with it, two of the coolest and most truly romantic vampires I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, and a story that is both hopeful and sad. He humanized Adam and Eve in a way that I haven’t seen done in a vampire film and made them into people who are doomed to live out eternity with humans who have no regard for the planet or life. As wise, immortal creatures of very old age, they are faced with a loneliness that can only be relieved when they are together. This is not an overly sappy love story or a horror movie, it’s slow at times and the literary and cultural references may go over some people’s heads, but Only Lovers Left Alive is a movie I could watch a million times over again. It’s one of the greatest vampire movies I’ve seen and Hiddleston and Swinton are a pair that I find easy to fall in love with.