A stylish Jim Jarmusch movie, Only Lovers Left Alive is a contemporary tale of centuries-old world-weary vampires, their lives sustained by love and blood.
From Dusk Till Dawn by Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Only the fact that it was directed by Jim Jarmusch could have induced me to see a movie billed as being about vampires. But there was no need for trepidation – its vampiric pair of lovers are the ultimate in poetic, junkie, hipster cool in a dreamy, twilight (no reference intended) world. Vampires Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) have lived so long they could be the originals. Maybe vampirism was the original sin? But between them is a love that has transcended centuries.
In this lifetime, Adam is a reclusive rock musician, living in a blackout-curtained house furnished like a ’60s hippie paradise in a deserted post-industrial Detroit – chosen for its Stax Records associations – that is in a state of spiralling decay. Though he has a contemporary look, he hasn’t kept up with new technology and creates his music on cumbersome ’70s equipment, releasing it in secret. Apart from dodgy haematologist Doctor Watson (Jeffrey Wright) from whom he buys his blood supplies, his only contact with the outside world is Ian (Anton Yelchin), his overawed puppyish roadie, who runs his errands and keeps curious fans from his door.
Meanwhile, Eve lives in a crumbling medieval warren of alleyways in the old part of Tangier, a part of a city that, too, seems to be in decline, and so enclosed that the sun never seems to penetrate. Tall, slim, hair and face so pale she looks bleached, wearing a covetable cream leather jacket and narrow trousers, she strides through the deserted kasbah at night to buy her blood from close friend and reprobate Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), who lives in a room behind a backstreet café, and, it turns out, wrote the complete works of Shakespeare.
Adam is a morose philospher, world weary and terminally disillusioned with humanity – “zombies” – so he skypes Eve and she takes a transatlantic flight to join him. Even at opposite ends of the universe, they would be “entwined particles”. Though she looks so ethereal, she’s the more practical of the two, content in the life she’s created for herself. Now they’re together, they drive through Detroit’s dark night-time streets, sip at blood lollies, make love and spend time just langorously being. But then her troublesome, party-girl younger sister (Mia Wasikowska) turns up unexpectedly from Los Angeles after 87 years, flouting all the self-preservation habits of vampire lore, threatening the exposure of Adam’s secret. After she selfishly drinks Ian to death, Adam and Eve are forced to dispose of his body and flee to Tangier, where they find Marlowe dying from drinking contaminated blood. Bored with their eternal life, but unable to end it, and with their food supply threatened, they now have to find a new source. And see an unsuspecting young couple kissing on a rooftop…
Creating the dreamlike atmosphere, as well as moody lighting, music too plays an important part. Among mesmeric dark, gothic or chillout tracks from a number of artists, there’s music written by Jarmusch himself, performed by Jarmusch’s band Sqürl, with contributions from Zola Jesus, Cults’ Madeline Follin, Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan and minimalist composer Jozef van Wissem. But it’s also Hiddleston and Swinton’s perfectly judged performances that make the film – self-aware, laid-back Brits, effortlessly hitting the one-liners that create the film’s droll, unhurried tone.
After centuries of exposure to the world’s greatest art and culture and its most celebrated exponents, Adam and Eve are the most sophisticated conversationalists and name droppers. But though they’ve been everywhere, seen everything, and metaphorically bought the 200-year-old T-shirt, they are also contemporary beings and there’s something very appealing about their meditative vampiric decadence and their weariness with the washed-up modern world, even as they adopt its innovations. In the end, all that’s left for them is their love. And the only thing that would let us recognise this languid, maddeningly attractive couple as vampires is their bloodstained fangs after feeding. So perhaps we may all become vampires in the end.
Only Lovers Left Alive is released on 21st February 2014