All of Shakespeare’s plays were actually written by Christopher Marlowe. Also Christopher Marlowe is a vampire. Not “was” a vampire – is a vampire. He’s still around today. He lives in Tangier and is best buds with Eve (Tilda Swinton), who is over three thousand years old and loves Jack White’s music. Eve is married to Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and has been for quite a while. And when you’re married for that long, you sometimes need time apart, so Adam has been chilling in Detroit for the past few years or so. He owns nothing made after the ’70s, it seems, even though it’s all powered by high-tech machinery devised by Nikola Tesla. Adam is the very rare hipster whose earned every inch of his cred, having inspired countless artists and scientists over the centuries. Now, though, he feels like he has nothing left to live for. The behavior of “the zombies” (that’s us, the humans) has exhausted him. So Eve takes a trip over to Detroit to cheer him up. Vampire hijinks ensue.
So Jim Jarmusch made a vampire movie. And it is most definitely a Jim Jarmusch vampire movie. It seems to “answer” a lot of the most popular contemporary vampire-related entertainments, pitched to the very lowest key instead of over-the-top campiness or violence. Even the movement of the actors is languid and easy, aimed at creating the feel of friends hanging out and jamming. It features a couple who are long settled together, rather than the torrid courtship of youth. Their physicality is incredibly erotic but has none of the sensationalized sexual theatrics of, say, True Blood. A single shot of Adam and Eve in bed together is more sexually evocative than any of Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin’s mash sessions.
Every time I figure that I’ve tired so utterly of bloodsuckers, someone manages to put a new spin on them. Jarmusch does so by making vampirism into a metaphor for the creative spirit, of all things. Adam, Eve, and the many mortal friends they’ve made over the years have enlivened rather than terrorized humanity, trying to push them away from being “zombies” to something better.
Of course, there are those who waste the gift of immortality, such as Eve’s “sister” Ava (Mia Wasikowska), who revels in the sensations of blood-drinking without paying a second’s thought to responsibility. Ava’s brief visit with the central couple results in the most plot incidence during the film, as she tempts Adam’s zombie friend Ian (Anton Yelchin) and imbibes way too much of their blood supply. She’s the friend who never pays for the drugs (In case you missed it, the blood is drugs. Artists like drugs), and they are always a drag.
Hiddleston and Swinton embody the opposites of the artistic temperament. Adam is still and broodtastic. He’s tired of the scene and thinks there’s nothing original left to see. Of course he’d pick the seemingly ghosted city of Detroit as his habitat. Eve is joyful and curious. She’s always keeping her mind open for something new and interesting. And all it takes is some time with her for Adam to begrudgingly admit that unlife is worth continued unliving. Together they are a stellar couple – one of the greats, in fact, and that’s no exaggeration.
Only Lovers Left Alive is chill and phlegmatic, but at the same time possibly the most upbeat vampire movie yet made. Rather than angst over their immortality, these characters exemplify how life should be celebrated. They collect experiences, and, the message is, so should you, the viewer. It’s also darkly funny, chock full of great music, and feels way shorter than its two hours. Like Adam regaining his will to live, it’ll make you believe in the vampire story again.