It Could Be Better But Not By Much
With a title bound to leave you out in the cold, begging to be let in to experiment immortal love, this Jim Jarmush movie is not exactly the easiest beast in the zoo. It captures a moment in the story, or the absence thereof, of Eve (SWINTON!) and Adam (Tom Hiddleston), her only love and creation. She lives secluded in Tangiers like a Jane Bowles character, he’s a recluse musician collecting guitars in Detroit. They are both vampires and survive on a strictly no-kill diet with the help of catering “French doctors”.
They hide well, those low-profile vampires, only betrayed by the odd turn of phrase or an out of period detail that only specialists would notice. Their sources of supply are dwindling down, because time has not stopped for the rest of the world and finding clean blood becomes more and more difficult. Drinking human being have simply become too much of a risk, as one of the character will, unfortunately for everyone involved, experience.
Eve is strong and has faith on eternity. She shares jokes about the good ol’days with Christopher (John Hurt) her best (only?) friend, and they laugh as if those moments four centuries ago were yesterday. They savour blood in small liquor glasses, a delicate ritual with a rush so strong it slows down everything in a brilliant series of ecstatic close ups. This movie takes its vampirism seriously, the drinking of blood more communion than consumption, more celebration than desecration. It starts spinning on embroidered djelabbas and priceless mandolins and it never stops swirling, like dervishes, life and death entwined, forever and ever.
Adam is more of a tortured soul. He’s sick of depending on “zombis”, human vassals, to be fed. He has a secret art project commissioned, one small object made of the toughest African wood possible. Eve senses something is wrong and flies to Detroit, from one city in decay to another. He plays guitar and she dances, the high priestess of an intimate cult. “You missed all the fun in the Middle Ages”, she tells him. Their lovemaking is reminiscent of l’amour courtois with its taking off the glove and symbolic undressing. They sleep in total darkness, in love like in death.
It takes its time and unfolds rapturously, a trip to the Jack White’s house now and some urban exploration in a decrepit movie theater then. Blood lollipops and poison mushrooms. “I suppose it could be worse, but not by much” says Adam. So evidently it becomes much worse.
Ava (Mia Wasikowska) Eve’s younger sister, reappears, even though an unfortunate incident in Paris drew them apart 87 years earlier. Eve is welcoming, Adam is annoyed by the selfish and greedy girl. They go out in a club where Adam’s unreleased music is playing. Mia drinks a zombi and falls sick “What did you expect, he’s from the music industry”, Adams hilariously observes.
Blood rarefies. They fly back to Tangiers only to discover the French doctor has been peddling bad stuff to Christopher. His death scene is a delicate balancing act between drama, tenderness, and the offhand revelation of his true identity. It reminds one of the painting La Mort de Murat and it is lovely made. Lovely, lovely, but oh so sad.
It ends with two brilliant scenes, one in a cabaret with a commanding Arab songstress and one outside at night, Eve and Adam watching a young couple making out, obviously hot for each other. In both scenes, the dialogue is brilliant but one has already quoted too much.
Only Lovers Left Alive is one of the three great vampire movies of this young century, together with Let The Right One In and Byzantium. It is the trippiest of the three and it has to be watched or you’ll wander in endless darkness, wondering what immortal love feels like.