The mania for vampires, so inescapable on our screens in the last few years, seems to have ebbed, replaced by plucky teenagers fighting authoritarian governments in YA dystopias. The moment is ripe for Jim Jarmusch to deliver Only Lovers Left Alive. If it turns out to be the last word on love-struck bloodsuckers, it’s a stylish valediction.
Tilda Swinton is Eve and Tom Hiddleston is Adam, eternal lovers who live separately. She’s in Tangier, he’s in Detroit, but they Skype. Adam’s some sort of reclusive rock star, but he’s feeling a bit down. He orders a wooden bullet from Ian (Anton Yelchin), a groupie who does odd jobs for him during daylight. To cheer Adam up, Eve flies to Detroit, where they’re joined by Eve’s troublemaking little sister, Eva (Mia Wasikowska).
Jarmusch has railed against the designation of his films, or those of other filmmakers like Wes Anderson, as ‘quirky’, saying it is “just so goddamn lazy”. What links Anderson and Jarmusch, though, is a taste for deadpan. At one point, Tom discovers Eva has killed his groupie, and remarks, expressionlessly: “You drank Ian”. Jarmusch also has fun skewering other artistic genius. Adam once supplied Schubert with some music, and Schubert passed it off as his own – “but I asked him to”. Eve asks Adam what Byron was really like – “frankly, he was a pompous ass”. And Eve’s best friend in Tangier is Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), who penned all the plays we now attribute to Shakespeare.
Like so many Jarmusch films, this one is worth seeing for the music alone. There’s a scene set in a Tangier club that’s particularly haunting. So, too, is the nightscape of Detroit. Jarmusch’s camera renders the derelict factories and belching smokestacks both lovely and sad. Eve and Adam spend their nights driving around its byways, and Eve gives a confident diagnosis: this city “will rise again”. She’d know.
Only Lovers Left Alive is in cinemas April 17.