For Adam and Eve, time does not pass, but lingers. With their pale faces and long, slender limbs draped in voluminous robes made from dark, heavy cloths, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) present a perversely beautiful twist on their biblical namesakes. This is a movie about vampires, but it has nothing to do with the vampires that have come to dominate pop culture in the last decade. Instead, “Only Lovers Left Alive,” the latest from eccentric director Jim Jarmusch, aims to capture a moment and a mood, a world of heavy curtains, yellow light, and enduring night.
Adam and Eve are vampires who have passed the long years of their existence befriending, inspiring, and in some cases, creating for history’s greatest artists. From Shakespeare to Schubert to Tesla, the litany of names mentioned is like a parade through the annals of western civilization. Though they cannot live without each other, they live apart. Adam makes his home on the outskirts of an abandoned Detroit, composing music and feeding off blood supplied by a doctor happy to take money without asking questions. Eve, on the other hand, resides in Tangier, where she spends her nights reading books of all languages and chatting with Christopher Marlowe, a member of the undead still smarting over Shakespeare’s plagiarism.
Disgusted with the human race, Adam contemplates suicide, leading Eve to come visit and cheer him up. Reunited, the happy couple play chess, eat popsicles, and go for long drives at night—the picture of blissful domesticity—until Eve’s sister, the reckless Ava (Mia Wasikowska) suddenly appears. This all makes the film sound much more dramatic than it feels, however, and while there is plenty of action to drive the story forward, Jarmusch is not interested in the plot so much as in his vision—the characters, the artistic sensibility they espouse, the timelessness they exude, and the striking images they present.
“Only Lovers” could easily have been a collection of striking, atmospheric images peppered with literary references and connected by a flimsy story—were it not for the performances of its two lead actors. Jarmusch (or his casting directors) deserve a prize just for choosing Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton (can we please call them Tiddleston?) to be vampire lovers. As strange as the pairing seems on paper, it is perfect for this movie. Graceful and ethereal, Swinton and Hiddleston seem hewn from the same form. They lean upon each other with the comfort and ease honed by centuries of companionship, and yet they maintain a strange chemistry. Swinton remains one of the most enigmatic actors working in movies today, and as Eve she seems to carry the wisdom of the world in her eyes. Hiddleston proves to be her equal, and manages to bring levity and wit to a character who primarily broods and sulks. For large stretches of the movie, it’s enough to just watch Adam and Eve be.
While much has been made of Jarmusch’s attitudes towards art—Adam spends much of his time lamenting the “zombie” state of the human race—what was striking in this movie about immortals was the proximity of death. It is only natural that one extreme evokes the other, but the hint of death hangs over the entire movie. Adam contemplates suicide, he and Eve are not opposed to taking lives when no other feeding options present themselves, and they themselves can be poisoned by the blood they feed upon.
In one scene, Adam and Eve toss a corpse into a pool of acid and watch it dissolve. The body disappears into the water, but for a moment the skull bobs stubbornly up and down. Even if the movie hadn’t mentioned Shakespeare multiple times already—including identifying Adam as a prototype for Hamlet—the Prince of Denmark would still have come to mind. As Eve pauses to gaze at the portraits hung on Adam’s wall, the gallery of literati they’ve known through the years, the overwhelming sense is that they have all gone while Adam and Eve remain. They are indeed the only lovers left alive.
Now playing in theaters.
Verdict: 3 1/2 out of 4 stars