Director Jim Jarmusch has never made conventional genre films – after the unbreakable samurai code of ‘Ghost Dog’ or the spiritual western journey of ‘Dead Man’ it is no surprise that his 2013 vampire film is not really about vampires, but a certain melancholic nostalgia towards past times. However, ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ is a shallow statement on passing time, and doesn’t have anything new to say about modern society, nor vampires themselves. MIGHT CONTAIN SPOILERS
Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton) have been in love and married for centuries and haven’t killed for blood for a long time, now surviving on blood-bank supplies, leading a long distance relationship – while she’s in Tangier, keeping contact with fellow vampire and Elizabethan era poet Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) (who, according to the film, wrote most of Shakespeare’s plays), he lives in on the outskirts of Detroit. Adam, having influenced numerous musicians and scientists throughout history has become burnt out and depressed – hiding and making music in an apartment filled with memories of the past, he even considers committing suicide, resulting in Eve visiting him. He is disappointed in the human race, or the ‘zombies’, as the he calls them – all they do is attack their own scientists, destroy once beautiful buildings, fight over oil.
‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ is more of an insight into a few days of its characters than a film with an actual plot. While the vampires live in present day, they deny modern life and apart from using iPhones and Youtube they manage to be isolated from society. They hardly encounter other vampires – the only one with different values is Eve’s younger sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) who still lives the irresponsible, murderous lifestyle of older times. During a visit Ava kills Adam’s ‘zombie’ helper and friend Ian, forcing the couple to fly (by plane, as most mythical vampire qualities are excluded) to Tangier, where they witness Marlowe, the old vampire’s death due to blood poisoning. The film ends when, weakened by blood-withdrawal, they are forced to kill a human couple.
Jarmusch bases his story on the idea that our present is corrupted, longing more for the 1960s than for the centuries before, making the film seem more of a hippie swan song than the summary of the timeless pain of the immortal. The old character’s death is predictable even in this transcendent level of existence, Ava’s rebellion is not important enough to support the concept. While more recent vampire love stories like ‘Let the Right One In’ or ‘Thirst’ add to the romantic, tragic quality of being immortal, ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ focuses on its main point, name-dropping historical and cultural references and occasionally explaining the plot by characters talking to themselves. While the two main actors offer great performances and some of the scenes (such as the hospital sequences) are a great mixture of gothic and modern elements, it is safe to say that Jarmusch was not able to fill the screenplay’s plot holes and hardly touches on points regarding its concept that would require a lot more screen time.