The first thing you might notice about the vampires in Only Lovers Left Alive is how effortlessly cosmopolitan they are. Smart, artsy, sexy — these undead are unequivocally cool. That’s no surprise when you consider this is the work of masterful indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, a purveyor of idiosyncratic cool whose credits include Night on Earth, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and Broken Flowers.
Jarmusch doesn’t make movies like anyone else, and Only Lovers Left Alive — which opened Friday exclusively at AMC Quail Springs Mall, 2501 W. Memorial Rd. — is hardly your run-of-the-mill vampire flick. It is imbued with an oddball sensibility, a nearly plotless affair that doesn’t include even a single instance of on-screen bloodsucking (these creatures are far too civilized for such mischief). But it still leaves a helluva bite mark.
Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers) is Adam, a centuries-old musician currently squirreled away in an old Victorian house in Detroit. A brooding recluse surrounded by vinyl records and vintage guitars, his primary connections to the outside world are an adoring fan named Ian (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek into Darkness) and a skittish doctor who keeps him stocked with O negative blood. It’s a lonesome existence for a guy who used to hang out with Romantic poets, so Adam perks up some when he is visited by his wife, Eve (Tilda Swinton, The Grand Budapest Hotel), who has been residing in Morocco.
Eve is as warm and pleasant as Adam is dark and despairing. In other words, they make a magnificent couple. But they share some things in common, too, particularly a passion for literature, music, science and the like. Their closest friend is playwright Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), a fellow vampire who, it turns out, really did pen Shakespeare’s masterpieces. It can’t be easy to remain interested in the world after several hundred years, but Adam and Eve maintain a deep appreciation for the artistic and the beautiful. Their aesthetic is reflected in a film packed with cultural references.
For the undead embracing life in a city of decay, the danger of irony overload can be real. Adam refers to the living as “zombies,” lamenting everything from environmental destruction to humankind’s penchant for unsightly electrical wiring. Perhaps such writing is not exactly subtle, but Jarmusch and his cast somehow make it work.
The writer-director loves provocative ideas and memorable images, and Only Lovers Left Alive is teeming with both. He also has ideal collaborators in Hiddleston and Swinton, both of whom are terrific here. The movie shimmers and luxuriates, by turns funny and profound, humming along on the intoxicating charisma of its full-blooded characters. Drink up.