Those cinemagoers concerned that the teenage adventures of Bella and Edward might have had a lasting negative impact on the movie vampire can rest easy. Last year, Neil Jordan’s Byzantium (2013) showed more than just intent to thoughtfully engage with the matter of soucriants, even if it was not entirely successful in its execution. Now, Jim Jarmusch’s latest, Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), takes up the mantle casting Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as a blood-sucking couple. It’s a delightfully poetic take on eternal damnation filled with literary swagger and wry humour rather than gushing melodrama or teen angst.
Adam (Hiddleston) is an ageless musician who comes with a liberal splash of tortured depressive for every inch of achingly cool rock star. He lives a reclusive life in Detroit in a house brimming with all manner of old instruments where his human helper, Ian (Anton Yelchin), provides him not with his ungodly manna but with rare guitars or other obscure and desirable items. He lives with an eye firmly on an idealised past, as evidenced by his penchant for all things antiquated. When she learns of his malaise with modern society, his partner, Eve (Swinton) makes her way from her own bohemian home in Tangiers. She’s an equally old soul, as reflective as Adam without spiralling into the same self-indulgent despair.
Seeing them together, this deadpan double-act of über-sophisticates, is the real joy of Only Lovers Left Alive and means that Jarmusch’s trademark narrative meandering never frustrates as it might. Hiddleston and Swinton are both on fantastically droll form and it is only the arrival of Eve’s troublesome younger sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), that threatens to inject any impetus at all. She’s still got a taste for the kill and a lust for the world that has long since expired in her older, and statelier, companions. There’s a possibility that the offbeat nature and glacial plot are masking a lack of depth, but if that is the case then they also serve a useful purpose.
The audience is given the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the in-jokes, the musical and literary references, and the central performances. Some will want the film to escalate in a way that it is never really likely to; instead it should just be enjoyed as a ride through the ghostly Detroit where one can luxuriate in the moody, chic milieu, not to mention the soundtrack. Only Lovers Left Alive is a film that slowly envelopes you and despite ultimately being somewhat slight, it has the potential to mature into a beloved favourite album years from now. At the very least, Jarmusch has managed one of the best vampire films in some time.