There is something hypnotically inviting about Jim Jarmusch’s melancholy vampire movie “Only Lovers Left Alive.” Nothing much happens, as befits not-human creatures centuries old: Who wants to fuss about plot and action when you simply want to contemplate eternal life?
To wit: What does love and commitment mean when you live forever? Why don’t the zombies (meaning humans) ever learn from their mistakes? How is the world even going to survive? Does anyone realize how badly we — vampires & zombies — are all off?
This is what the movie scrutinizes … sort of. Or maybe it’s really about how hard it is to get a good day’s sleep.
Whatever the case, Jarmusch’s movie carries you forward on a slow-moving eddy of mood, intellectual conversation, artistic inquiry, atmosphere and subtle tensions in the night-time hours, the time period for virtually the entire movie.
Needless to say, this is not a vampire tale to engage either young horror-loving males or young romance-loving females. These are art-house vampires, enervated and philosophical, having seen and done it all over the centuries, and now reveling in too much wisdom.
Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play vampires named Adam and Eve, lovers for centuries — outsiders, Bohemians, the “other” — as well as lovers of culture who prefer to live alone but get together when the mood strikes them.
It strikes Adam, hiding out in the ruins of contemporary Detroit, when he summons Eve from her hermitic life in ancient Tangier to come to him despite the difficulties of travel — always having to take night flight and so on.
She leaves behind her great friend Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), the famed Elizabethan poet turned vampire-author — which at least explains how he was able to write all of Shakespeare (along with other works credited to zombie writers) when he was supposed to be dead and buried.
The modern-day vampire doesn’t go for the old-school biting and sucking routine thanks not only to contemporary policing prowess but the contamination of human blood. Rather these two purloin black-market “safe” blood from hematologists such as Adam’s provider, Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright), a nervous man who never feels quite at Holmes.
No longer needing to prowl for food, these two V-creatures spend their eternal lives in the arts. In Adam’s case he is an extraordinary musician — he even let Schubert publish one of his pieces as his own — but mostly wishes to remain undiscovered. Yet his pieces seem to get bootlegged nonetheless.
He collects rare vintage guitars procured for him by Ian (Anton Yelchin), whom Adam compliments as being an okay guy “for a zombie.”
The two lovers spark to one another the moment reunited. To Adam’s exasperation, they are soon visited by Eve’s wilder sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska). Her machinations ultimately drive them back to Tangiers and a blood supply that, in the movie’s only sequence of sustained suspense, turns out to be elusive.
Again do not expect much story or action from this mellow yet cool piece of laid-back cinema. Jarmusch may well be throwing a few semi-autobiographical bones to followers about his own artistic tastes and contemplation about where he now sees himself as an artist after a long art-house career.
More vampire than zombie apparently, but the film works just as well without a Jarmusch decoder. It’s a lovely, lilting mood piece that can in the best tradition of Jarmusch — and Seinfeld — be about absolutely nothing at all …
Production values are exquisite.
Opens: April 11, 2014 (Sony Pictures Classics)
Production companies: RPC, Pandora Fimproduktion, Snow Wolf Produktion, ARD Degeto Film, Lago Film, Neue Road Movies
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, Jeffrey Wright, Slimane Dazi, John Hurt
Director/screenwriter: Jim Jarmusch
Producers: Jeremy Thomas, Reinhard Brundig
Executive producers: Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Jean Labadie, Bart Walker, Stacey Smith, Peter Watson
Director of photography: Yorick Le Saux
Production designer: Marco Bittner Rosser
Music: Jozef van Wissem
Costume designer: Bina Daigeler
Editor: Affonso Gonçalves
R rating, 123 minutes