Only Lovers Left Alive
Vampires, like the eternal youth they represent, are wasted on the young. Historically associated with power and allure, if not explicit sexuality, the defining property of vampires has always been their immortality. But as fun as lust and debauchery might seem to many mere mortals, after centuries they’ve got to get pretty boring. Hell, I’m not even forty and I find a lot of it bemusing already. This is where Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive comes in: a vampire story for grown-ups.
The lovers are a pair of vampires who call each other Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton); it’s not clear whether this is mere allusion, or whether they’re meant to be truly antediluvian. Either way, they’re very old. Eve still lives in Tangier, close friends with Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), who not only is another vampire, but totally did write all those plays we ascribe to Shakespeare. It’s no wonder she’s close to a writer, since she spends her immortality reading, packing nothing but suitcases full of books to travel.
Adam has moved to the overgrown outskirts of Detroit; his own artistic expression is in music. Back in 1828, he wrote the “sublime” adagio for Schubert’s String Quintet. These days he’s moved into even more experimental work, collecting rare guitars and other instruments through a “zombie” — human — agent (Anton Yelchin), and putting out his unlabeled recordings through the same channel. He also loves science, and has his house wired up to use a dynamo descended from Nikola Tesla’s wildest imagination. And as he pulls further and further away from any interactions at all, he despairs for the world, and starts to contemplate suicide.
Hiddleston and Swinton both present the same wonderfully muted affect. They’ve been around so long that nothing can make them too happy or sad or angry, even when Eve’s bratty little sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) shows up and drinks all their supply. Adam and Eve subsist on sips of type O-negative, procured from a hospital through a phlebotomist on the take (Jeffrey Wright), but Ava goes through it like Ke$ha with a bottle of 25-year-old single-malt scotch. Worse: they have to be extremely careful with their source, since much of the human blood supply has been contaminated in some way that’s dangerous or deadly to vampires as well.
The whole thing is delightfully moody, and the tone is only enhanced by the darkly minimalist score supplied by Jozef van Wissem and Jarmusch’s own music project, Sqürl. It’s a slow, melancholy drone, but a relaxing one at the same time. It becomes easy to see how tiring immortality might become. After the party is over, you move on to art, but even art grows old given enough time. The only thing worth keeping on going for is a companion who understands you.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.