Like artists, vampires tend to feel like loners misunderstood by the masses. Director Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers, Coffee and Cigarettes) captures this deliciously in his latest mood piece, ‘Only Lovers Left Alive.’ His vampires have good taste in the finer things in life such as literature and music. There are so many insightful metaphors throughout the film. It touches on how great art has been compromised by fame and instant gratification. It’s like trying to share with someone your passion for a particular art form like film, music or literature but they are unable to appreciate it the same way that you do. Jarmusch’s film is not your usual vampire story and for that reason makes it beguiling and something special.
Adam (Tom Hiddleston) plays an angst-ridden rock musician that lives like a hermit in a decrepit neighborhood on the edge of Detroit. He surrounds himself with music through vintage guitars and vinyl records. He creates ambient music that expresses his frustration with humans he labels “zombies.” He has a longhaired mortal friend Ian (Anton Yelchin) that gets him hard to find items like rare Gibson guitars and a wooden bullet. Adam hands Ian wads of cash for these items. Ian has no idea Adam is a vampire. He’s a fan of his music and simply thinks Adam is an eccentric rockstar. Adam scoffs, “I’m sick of it – these zombies, what they’ve done to the world, their fear of their own imaginations.” We never learn how Adam always has wads of cash but it’s not necessary to know the details for the story.
What we do learn is that the wooden bullet represents the suicidal tendencies of a tortured artist. Adam isn’t really suicidal but it prompts him to contact his eternal soulmate Eve (Tilda Swinton). They’ve been lovers for centuries that spend time apart from each other. When you’re immortal, a year or two apart probably feels like a weekend. Eve currently lives in Tangiers. She socializes with Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), who quips about ghostwriting for William Shakespeare. Marlowe also has a connection for the ‘good stuff.’ They sip blood like a fine aperitif. Once consumed, they experience a euphoric rush that is wonderfully captured by Jarmusch. Eve knows something is not right with Adam and books a first-class ticket to Detroit.
Once in Detroit, Adam and Eve don’t miss a beat. Their chemistry is perfect together. It’s fascinating to listen to their conversations on great literature and music. They listen to vinyl records and enjoy some really good type O-negative Adam scored at a local blood blank from Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright). It’s a funny scene as Adam poses as Dr. Faust. Dr. Watson tells him the stethoscope he wears around his neck is from the 70s. Adam looks at him with disdain. You almost feel him wanting to bite the guy’s neck but modern vampires are more careful about drinking potentially contaminated blood from the zombies. The story gets really fun when Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) shows up at Adam’s house and causes chaos. Ava convinces the couple to join her at an underground rock club where they meet up with Ian. Ava’s wild tendencies lead to humorous and disastrous consequences.
The acting is superb from the entire cast. Hiddleston is best known for his role as Loki in the Thor films. His performance as a melancholy rockstar shows off his immense range as a gifted actor. Swinton’s performance as his undead lover is effortless and played beautifully. It’s one of her best performances. Wasikowska gets to play Swinton’s mischievous sister. It’s nice to see Wasikowska turned loose with the energy of a rebellious teen. She brings humor to the film at just the right moment. Yelchin and Hurt add well-balanced supporting roles to the stellar cast. Another enjoyable aspect of the film is the incredible cinematography by Yorick Le Saux (Swimming Pool, I Am Love) who finds haunting beauty in the ruins of Detroit. If you want to experience one of the great pioneers in indie filmmaking, don’t miss Jarmusch having fun with the vampire genre. ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ is now DVD and digital http://www.sonyclassics.com/onlyloversleftalive/. Check out the official trailer http://youtu.be/-TbxI_oRSKI.