How does this strike you? Hang out with a pair of centuries-old vampires in a digital-free apartment in depressed, depopulated Detroit while they listen to vinyl records on a turntable. Before you stop reading, let me point out that this movie, Only Lovers Left Alive, flows from the mind and bruised heart of Jim Jarmusch, the indie pioneer of laidback lyricism. Jarmusch movie titles sound like an incantation when you say them aloud: Stranger Than Paradise, Mystery Train, Night On Earth, Dead Man, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Broken Flowers, The Limits of Control.
There. That should put you in the mood. Tom Hiddleston (Loki himself) plays Adam, the Detroit bloodsucker who gets his supply of O Negativo from a hospital doctor (Jeffrey Wright). But Adam’s real addiction is for guitars. He picks up the odd 1966 Hagstrom and early-1960’s sixties Silvertone, from Ian (Anton Yelchin), a dealer who is also a zombie. Jarmusch sees anyone who is not a culture-curating vamp as a zombie (read the great unwashed public).
What stops this beautifully designed mesmerizer of a movie from being suffocatingly elitist is the arrival of Adam’s great love, Eve (Tilda Swinton). Eve jets in (at night, of course) from Tangier where she hangs with Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), who is still stung that Shakespeare gets the credit for plays that he wrote. Once in Detroit, Eve and Adam laze all over each other with swooning, erotic abandon, soaking up the music, talking Byron or Eddie Cochran as the mood strikes them, and gazing at Adam’s favorite portraits of the likes of Franz Kafka, Billie Holiday and Thelonious Monk. Adam and Eve are deadly, but not dead. Jarmusch gives them a sly, literary wit, as when they make travel reservations under the names Stephen Dedalus and Daisy Buchanan. Except for a visit from Eve’s wild child sister (Mia Wasikowska), nothing much happens. Only Lovers Left Alive is all atmosphere and attitude, as evanescent as a dream. But Swinton and Hiddleston are the last word in volumptuous, vampiric cool. And Jarmusch, clearly relating to these creative lovers in a world of braindead zombies, cares enough to have spent seven years trying to raise the $7 million it took to make this intensely personal movie. For some, Jarmusch, at 61, will be tossed in the analogue heap of oldies who resist the digiverse of right now. Not so fast, zombies. Jarmusch, as ever, has the power to sneak up on you. He’s a spellbinder. The same goes for his movie.