Jim Jarmusch made a vampire picture. And it's kind of perfect.
Set predominately in Detroit, partially in Tangier, and entirely at night, Only Lovers Left Alive stars Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as an immortal couple navigating through the centuries in the most impossibly cool manner - as the most perfect couple ever to walk the earth. Of course, lots of vampires are cool. Or they've seemed that way, before we encountered Swinton and Hiddleston's Eve and Adam, who have been around for an undisclosed amount of time, perhaps centuries, maybe more. One of the few things we know about their lives is that they've spent them together, in spirit if not always in the same physical space.
The film opens on Adam and Eve apart, each living secluded but seemingly content, on opposite sides of the world. He resides in a crumbling mansion set in the deteriorating landscape of Detroit, where he writes music, collects musical instruments and technological gadgets, and from them builds a world strictly for his own entertainment, to distract him from the frustrating world outside, and the impossible humans that unfortunately run it. She enjoys her solitude in a flat hidden away in the rambling corridors of the old world, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, where she luxuriates among her vast collection of literature and spends occasional evenings in the company of poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe, played by John Hurt, who, it seems, not only was the true author of Shakespeare's entire body of work, but also did not expire from a knife wound to the head during a bar fight, as history has led us to believe. He has instead spent the past 450 years in quiet seclusion among the artistic elite of the literary world. After an undetermined amount of time apart, Eve reaches out to Adam, perhaps sensing his isolation and need for reconnection, as indeed when she calls, it is at exactly the right moment. He does need her to come to him, and she does so without the slightest aggravation or hesitation. There's no explanation for their separation, and none needed. In a life that reaches into eternity, a few years apart probably equate to a weekend away from home. Adam and Eve live their lives at a casual pace, as if they have all the time in the world, because of course, they do. There's absolutely no rush to be anywhere, except in each others arms.
The true tone of the film is revealed in the early scene in which Adam and Eve reconnect. Adam spends nearly all of his time secluded on the upper floors of his dilapidated house, going to the window only when summoned by the doorbell, and only answering it for his form of personal assistant and sole connection to the outside world, a musician named Ian, played by Anton Yelchin. Adam not only rarely leaves the house, he rarely leaves the second floor. But when Eve arrives, tired from her overnight transatlantic flight, Adam leaves at once to greet her. Their reunion is both familiar and comfortable, yet new and exhilarating, the way love can hardly ever be after so much time together. And yet, after hundreds of years, this is how Adam and Eve spend their time, curled up together on Adam's sprawling antique bed, or upon an ancient sofa, surrounded by the towering clutter of the life Adam has tried to construct for himself on his own. Everything there is his and for his own amusement, and yet Eve fits right in, as if every part of her life connects effortlessly with some aspect of his. He invites her into his intensely private existence, and she obliges in a respectful and completely comfortable manner.
Conflict arrives, but only externally, in the form of Eve's sister Ava, played by Mia Wasikowska, who turns up not unexpected but definitely unwanted, and disrupts the lovers lives in a way that is both slight and yet has repercussions that will affect the momentum of their entire future.
In both settings, Detroit and Tangier, Jarmusch depicts the world much different and much more realistically than traditional vampire films, dropping the artifice of covens and the hedonistic night life of the human world as backdrops. Nothing external is needed to amplify the coolness of his ultimate vampire lovers. Instead Jarmusch illustrates the ideal world for a pair of introverts as pathologically introspective as Adam and his Eve. The streets of their towns are deserted, quiet, and barren, both in the former heartland of the US, where Adam takes his fair lady on a driving tour of the desiccated urban landscape, and the balmy Mediterranean where Eve brings Adam in an attempt to ease him out of his intense solitude and back into the tiny corners of the world where he is comfortable, as long as she is there with him. In one of my favorite scenes of the film, Eve leaves Adam alone on the streets of Tangier, only for a moment, where he finally finds something external that arouses the slightest bit of hope and interest in him, as he observes a singer perform in a Tangierian version of an after hours club. He watches transfixed and completely absorbed until Eve returns, resting her chin lightly on his shoulder, and he turns at once, excited to see her again, and share this experience with her.
The film includes a rapturous soundtrack provided partly by Jarmusch and his musical partner Jozef Van Wissem, and obligatory nods to the rich and delightfully nebulous source material of vampire lore. There is plenty of blood drinking, and revelations about the dangers for vampires in the modern age, and the logistical problems of living in such a condition without foreseeable end.
Of course, this isn't a story about vampires. This story is about something far more mythical and unattainable than immortality. This is a portrayal of possibly the most perfect long term relationship ever described in literature.This is the story about a couple that has come to love everything about each other, so much so that they find all the rest of the world more alluring just because they enjoy each other's company. In the end, the real ecstasy of living forever is not in the triumph of cheating death, or of the gift of eternal youth, but in the security of a true partner during the journey. And cool sunglasses.
I do have a single caveat, and it involves the Marlowe subplot. Clever as it may be, I just don't dig the modern fashion for ascribing Shakespeare's work to some contemporary of his or another. Sorry Jim. Loved your movie, but I have to back up my man William on this one.