Only Lovers Left Alive

Year: 2013
Production Co: Recorded Picture Company
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, Jeffrey Wright

What's it like for vampires when they don't necessarily want to butcher and slaughter humankind? How do they come by food? What do they do with all their time when they're centuries old, have seen it all and know it all? How do they travel?

Jim Jarmusch asks these and many other questions through his own lens of almost effortless cool, vampires and lovers Eve (Tilda Swinton) and Adam (Tom Hiddleston) – not much depth to that subtext – living, loving and pondering their existence and that of their relationship.

Eve lives in Tangier among endless shelves and piles of books, getting her supply from a kindly local cafe owner and occasionally checking in on her good friend Marlowe (John Hurt). Adam lives in a ramshackle mansion in the forgotten slums of Detroit. He's a very successful musician, a young local, Ian (Anton Yelchin) his middleman to get his music out to the record company and procure his supply as well as an assortment of vintage and storied musical instruments and equipment.

Like Eve, he has a very careful system to procure blood that's good enough to feed on, posing as a doctor to slip into a nearby hospital and paying large sums of money to an informant, Dr Watson (Jeffrey Wright) for his supply. As it turns out, modern living has contaminated the blood of many humans and if Marlowe, Adam, Eve or any others of their kind mistakenly consume it, it could kill them.

Only Adam himself and Ian know where he live, but even then industrious rabid fans come past in the middle of the night suspecting they've found him. It might be the attention or it might be simply boredom, but Adam seems tired of life and depressed, his music and instruments not fulfilling him any more. Early in the story he asks Adam to get a wooden bullet made with a brass casing, apparently to commit suicide with.

When he talks with Eve across the other side of the world she realises what a bad state he's in and gets a flight to Detroit to stay with him. Eve finds the bullet and realises his intentions, instead encouraging Adam to experience life again. They lay around together, reading, playing chess, drinking, going out to cruise in his electric powered Jaguar and go to bars, and things are going swimmingly until Eve's younger sister, Ava (Mis Wasikowska) arrives from LA to visit.

Adam wants none of it, only hinting at the kind of trouble Ava will bring down on them, but Eve insists – the young girl is family, after all. But trouble does indeed rain down when she drinks their entire stash of good blood, convinces them to go to a local club with her and tries to seduce Ian into drinking the blood when they're all back home as well. Adam and Eve go to bed and leave the couple, figuring nothing too bad can happen, but the next morning reveals the extent of the damage she's done to their peace and the carefully constructed support networks they've built.

With Detroit now too hot and no lifeline to good blood thanks to Ava's seduction and murder of Ian, the pair have no choice but to leave for Eve's home back in North Africa. But things go from bad to worse when they find the cafe shut and Marlowe desperately ill after drinking bad blood himself. Their very lives are threatened, seeming like they'll have to turn into the monsters society considers them to be instead of the cool urban sophisticates they've styled themselves into.

Being a Jarmusch jam there's an overabundance of mood and not much of a helping of pace or action. It tells a definite story so there's enough to keep you interested, and the script by Jarmusch (adapted from a French version, which I gather was adapted from a novel) does a good job of making it all feel like just a footnote, the most recent crisis in a centuries-long program of sorting out somewhere to live, lining up a food supply, etc. There's considerably less story than there is set-up, but the set-up of the lives the hero and heroine live are interesting enough to plumb for awhile without adding any elements like Ava to stir things up.

The locations are evocative and alive and I always have a thing for stories set in wildly diverging places that seem to have nothing to do with each other. You couldn't get any further away from the cobbled sandstone streets and rammed Earth neighbourhoods of Tangier than the crumbling decay of suburban Detroit.

It would have been great fun for Hiddleston after so many years of putting on silly costumes and horns and playing to green screens, and Swinton is as svelte and ethereal as ever. If only Jarmusch remembered what he did here when it came time to make The Dead Don't Die.

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