'Only Lovers Left Alive' Captures the Intimacy of Life Lived Well

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) has a death wish, or so it seems. But it is not a consideration borne of hasty impracticality, a sign of immediate depression.

May 13, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) has a death wish, or so it seems. But it is not a consideration borne of hasty impracticality, a sign of immediate depression. Adam has been living with this feeling for some time now, and by some time, let’s just say the time frame is best measured in decades or, more likely, centuries.

Adam is a vampire, a creature of the abandoned Detroit night and a refined romantic hanging onto the notion of dear life by the merest insinuation of a thread. He lives and longs to create music. He has Ian (Anton Yelchin), a hired procurer of instruments and would-be brand manager who, in the latter role, acts more as a disseminator of misinformation because Adam could care less about people linking his name to the work he produces. There’s nothing good to be gained from such notoriety; that’s a fool’s game.

There is, possibly, one other thing of this world that compels Adam to keep fighting the good fight, and that’s Eve (Tilda Swinton), his lovely and ethereal wife living halfway around the world, wandering the sun-scorched alleyways of Tangiers under the cover of darkness, her luminously pale (and perfectly sculpted) face hidden behind a shawl and sunglasses, while the men she passes by make offers, seeking to entice her with “what she needs,” completely unaware that their proffered wares are not close to what she seeks. 

Eve, out for a rendezvous with Marlowe (John Hurt), who truly has what she needs and a few secrets from a long life well-lived without having succumbed to the despair that envelopes Adam, is an ageless wonder. The loose confidence in her stride speaks to the movements of someone who has been on the planet from the very beginning, watching and documenting every moment but also living and enjoying each passing moment.

So, Adam loves Eve and Eve loves life (and Adam). But what is there for us, the audience, to love about Jim Jarmusch (the Akron boy turned New Yorker who has given us the likes of Night on Earth, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and The Limits of Control) and his dynamic duo in Only Lovers Left Alive? The very idea of dubbing them “dynamic” relegates them to a series of expectations involving the typical necking and gothic fixations, transformations into animals, fears of garlic and crosses, routine expressive bursts of superhuman ability and likely an unhealthy dose of immature angst, especially when and where it concerns a pet human who is supposed to serve as a reminder of their own lost humanity. Right?

That is where you would be oh so deliciously wrong. Adam and Eve have no need for any of those tired tropes, definitely not when it comes to staying in touch with what it once meant to be human. Honestly, these two, along with Marlowe and even Eve’s walking cliché of a sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), are more human than most of the “zombies” (Adam’s derogatory name for mere mortals) slinking around in blissful ignorance during the day. 

To say that you want to live forever is not, in Jarmusch’s estimation, about amassing fame, fortune and power; instead it is more a matter of the subtle influence over culture. Does a vampire leave a carbon footprint? Adam and Eve constantly seem to lament the state of the world — questioning whether the endless world wars being waged are fought over oil or water, bemoaning the contamination of the blood supply (a decided problem for both humans and vampires, truth be told). 

It is fascinating to listen to Marlowe shush Eve when she starts in on him, trying to convince him to finally let it slip that Shakespeare was a fraud, a front for his genius. Better still, pay attention to the aliases the vampires assume during their brief forays into the world. Adam slips into a hospital to meet his blood supplier (Jeffrey Wright playing the aptly named Dr. Watson) under the guise of Dr. Faust. And when Eve cajoles Adam to flee the U.S. with her, they book nighttime air passage as Daisy Buchanan (The Great Gatsby) and Stephen Dedalus (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). Jarmusch sets up a world in which his vampires had a hand in the cultural development and continuation of humanity.

And that, in the end, is the love that keeps Adam alive. He’s not ready to give up the ghost, that connection to the fabric of life. Eve is a lifeline, but even she must confront a change on the horizon. Their age of refinement needs to evolve. It needs to get back in touch with the raw passion of living and loving. Adam and Eve, Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, still have quite a bit of loving left in them. (Now Open at Esquire Theatre)

Grade: A