Jarmusch’s vampire flick is ironically his warmest film
Jim Jarmusch’s first film in three years taps a commercial vein—vampires always sell, even given an all-mood, little-plot film, however lambently shot by Yorick Le Saux. Only Lovers Left Alive is an ultimately enrapturing love story, set on the border of gentility and decadence.
The lovers are introduced in a matched set of circling shots from the ceiling: one black-clad male Adam (Tom Hiddleston) with black peekaboo hair; the other, Eve, a nigh-albino (Tilda Swinton) laid out pale and fair in a Slavic caftan. Fascinated with idlers and ramblers throughout his career, Jarmusch finds a pair too inert even to die.
The two have been missing each other. Eve leaves her home in Tangier and comes to Detroit where Adam is a nocturnal, reclusive musician, dwelling in a shuttered house, pestered by fans who ring his doorbell. Adam has an intermediary with the world of “zombies,” as he calls humans.
Only Lovers is a romanticized version of the drug life, overlaid on a vampire romance; the relationship between Adam and his human assistant, Ian (Anton Yelchin), is like the relationship between a dealer and his best customer. It’s friendly enough, but it’s a friendship that doesn’t go that thick or deep. Adam requires the finest vintage guitars and old vinyl. One evening, he pays Ian to find a bullet tipped with the densest hardwood: “It’s for an, er, project. An art project.” The need for a weapon signals the arrival of the film’s serious trouble-maker: Eve’s Lilithian sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska).
Even before the fangs show in the half-smiles, the movie luxuriates in the charm of good-looking actors doing very little. Wasikowska’s previously undemonstrated capacity for mischief and wiggliness enlivens the movie when it begins to get static, in the same way that the unwanted Hungarian niece upended the characters’ lives in Stranger Than Paradise. This is Jarmusch’s warmest work. United, our lovers drive, without fear, all night in Detroit, looking at the wanton destruction. They see the cars parked in the Michigan Theater’s shell, which is right up there with stabling horses in the Vatican. Yet Adam prophesizes the city’s resurrection, since it is rich with water in a world ever-poorer of it. Strange to see a vampire movie arguing that the sun also rises.