Mystics, saints, and sages throughout the ages have said that life is forever and that love is forever but I don’t think they had vampires in mind. Though around for ages, vampires seem to have become more popular in our society today, perhaps reflecting the corporate consumerism sucking the life out of our society. Though vampires may be reflective of the corporate culture, they may also be metaphors that describe those who are blind to the wonders and beauty of life and can only suck the blood out of it. In Only Lovers Left Alive, director Jim Jarmusch attempts to deconstruct the classic vampire story by eliminating most of the “horror” aspects, substituting a wry cultural elitism with an unholier-than-thou attitude.
The film stars Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as Eve and Adam (you heard right) as lo-o-o-ng-time lovers who, unlike their “zombie” counterparts in everyday life, survive together over time by being agreeable and refraining from throwing things at each other in a fit of rage (maybe it works out after a few hundred years). Though the film is witty, romantic, and well-balanced without descending into camp, it has a curiously flat quality and its attempt to convey sophisticated ennui comes through only as sad cynicism and world-weariness.
Adam and Eve have been separated from each other, though for how long and for what reason are not explained. Perhaps after hundreds of years together, they needed a break. Adam is a musician living in Detroit, Michigan which is shown as a desolate, industrial wasteland. Not necessarily anti-social just anti-zombie (his word for us ordinary humans), Adam thrives on being alone. The wild-haired Eve, a studious scholar, meanwhile, has been living in Tangier, Morocco, a city that Jarmusch claims is his favorite city on Earth (we don’t know if he has a favorite somewhere else).
Eve’s best friend is the ex-boy wonder of the 16th century, Christopher Marlowe, who survived a knife in his head to become a vampire writing under the pen name of William Shakespeare (we knew there was something odd about the man from Stratford). In any event, Adam and Eve no longer attack human beings to drink their blood. That is sooo 19th century. Each has their own supplier of purified blood which they drink from cocktail glasses (Bloody Mary, anyone?) I wouldn’t say Adam is lonely and depressed, but is more than willing to spend his cash (saved over the centuries, perhaps) on a wooden bullet encased in a gold shell in case he wants to end his bloody life (I didn’t know that vampires had it in them).
When Eve gets a sense that Adam has an aliveness problem, she flies from Tangier to be in his arms once again. Now, they can talk about Adam’s priceless set of guitars that he purchased from Ian (Anton Yelchin), one of the nicer zombie’s around and drop names of the people they have known such as Schubert, Byron, and Shelley and probably Dracula. Soon, Eve dreams her sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) into coming from Los Angeles to visit them (spooky movement at a distance).
Full of youthful energy but without true vampire scruples, Ava helps herself to the “good stuff” in their home and generally acts in a selfish manner until she is sent packing and told to go back home to the true zombies who live in Los Angeles. While it is a treat to see “cool” vampires instead of the usual ghouls, there is no real joy in Only Lovers Left Alive. Jarmusch is going for romance and humor and atmosphere by the bucket load, but the film is emotionally wooden and all the centuries-long love affair has produced seems to be a couple that really like each other, who have an eclectic musical interest, and just enjoy lounging around between meals.
Only Lovers Left Alive, aside from some flashes of stylistic brilliance, has no compelling story to engage us, nor anything of importance to say — no insights, realizations or character growth. Shall we say, there is little to sink our teeth into. Judging by the reaction in the theater, the lovers in the film’s title may be the only ones left alive, only because there was no one left in the audience who fit in that category.