“Only Lovers Left Alive” might elicit memories of those 1980s and ’90s vampire films when world-weary, hip bloodsuckers lamented the world of humans with passive disgust.
The immortal experiences of Adam (Tom Hiddleston) have left him burdened and secluded at a neglected house in Detroit, the contemporary capital of neglect. Awaiting his lover Eve (Tilda Swinton), Adam records music using the finest vintage equipment money can buy through a reverent human aide, Ian (Anton Yelchin), contractually sworn to secrecy.
Meanwhile, Eve chills out in Tangier with her fellow vampire chum, Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), and, through his mysterious source, drinks the purest blood possible. If reduced to synopsis — the vampires’ quest for pure blood (amid a world of “contaminated” humans), and the hijinks and tragedies encountered — would suffice. But this is a Jim Jarmusch film, so atmosphere takes precedence over plot.
Yet it should come as a relief to both the director’s fans and those unaware of his work that this genre piece maintains his leisurely style while providing one of Jarmusch’s most conventional stories. There’s even plot room for a manic pixie vampire (Mia Wasikowska) to jolt the meditative pace.
The film is truly centered around Eve and Adam, whom Jarmusch (inspired by Mark Twain’s posthumous “Diaries of” the Biblical pair) imagined as a sun-and-moon pairing. Eve spends her immortality with a zeal and curiosity about people, cultures and natural science, while Adam is busy befriending the iconoclasts of poetry, science and music.
After seeing how humans relegated Nikola Tesla’s practicality to the footnotes of innovation, among other laments, Adam doesn’t see much left to look forward to — a problem when you’re immortal. Like all the best lovers, a concerned Eve lightly faults Adam for his cynical isolation: “Self-obsession is a waste of living.”
Swinton’s performance is another memorable highlight in an eclectic filmography. Hiddleston’s brooding through the film isn’t markedly different from his well-known portrayal of Loki in the “Thor” films. Adam is thankfully planted in some arch comedy moments (a recurring scene with Jeffrey Wright playing a character named Dr. Watson and other literary allusions should make you smile) to provide levity.
For Jarmusch’s first digital film, he found a keen cinematographer and colorist to render each location and room vibrantly.
Recommended for: Goth kids, librarians who win pub trivia night, Gen X vampire film lovers.
Bathroom break? Take it when Eve reunites with Adam in Detroit. A revolving overhead camera can’t conceal Hiddleston’s inability to slow dance.