In light of rumors that Wes Anderson made a totally animated version of Grand Budapest Hotel before filming the live action version that hit theaters, one has to wonder if Jim Jarmusch didn’t originally storyboard Only Lovers Left Alive as a webcomic. That might have been an insult had it been directed at anybody other than Jarmusch, who is immeasurably more qualified than your typical deviantART scribbler to put words in the mouths of sexy, smart, ennui-riddled rockstar vampires with extremely well-defined happy trails who both love and hate humans.
Only Lovers Left Alive follows an episode in the lives of vampire lovers Adam and Eve (names that are either symbolic or literal, as the film keeps the specifics of its mythology hidden). Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a reclusive musician living in Detroit, while Eve (Tilda Swinton) has been living somewhat more scenically in Tangier along with Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt). When a video call reveals the depths of Adam’s depression, Eve flies out to visit, have sex, sleep in, drink blood, listen to music, and reminisce about all of the famous events in history they were witness to.
Stylistically, Only Lovers Left Alive has as much in common with vampire films as the excellent Dead Man has with westerns, with Jarmusch distilling the genre conventions of each into smooth, easy-to-watch tone poems. The vampires of this universe drink blood—which seems to be equal part drug and food—but rely more on corrupt doctors than on old-fashioned throat biting. Adam and Eve spend a great deal of time namedropping famous philosophers, scientists, and musicians in very familiar terms, as though their lives together consisted entirely of being entertained by history’s greatest people (who we have to assume are actually Jarmusch’s personal favorites when Nikola Tesla and Jack White are held in equal regard).
These conversations define the central mood of the film. The source of Adam’s depression is the way generation after generation of “zombies” (mortals) squander the hard work of their ancestors and waste their potential, a view he indulges with his many drives around the industrial ruin of once-vibrant Detroit. Eve takes a more cyclical view of history, reminding Adam that he’s felt this way before, of the beauty around him, and that there’s nothing that makes the present inherently worse than other dark chapters of history. Even immortals with very long memories, it seems, aren’t immune from the human quality of seeing the present day as the end of history, no matter how sexy they look playing guitar with no shirt on.
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE | RATED R| NOW PLAYING, COOLIDGE CORNER THEATRE & KENDALL SQUARE CINEMA