Only Lovers Left Alive
“I’m sick of it–these zombies, what they’ve done to world, their fear of their own imaginations” — Adam in Only Lovers Left Alive
“Nothing was chosen by chance. This film has a visual music.” — Jim Jarmusch
Two vampires, married but living across the Atlantic from each other, exist in their own worlds. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a grunge musician that looks like Robert Smith from The Cure with a touch of Brandon Lee from The Crow (1994). He composes funeral music in his old, gothic house in Detroit. Eve (Tilda Swinton) is living in Tangiers with her friend Marlowe (John Hurt) who supplies her with uncontaminated blood.
Adam and Eve bring to mind the first couple on Earth, living peacefully in the Garden of Eden before they were condemned to life with death after sinning. They are eternal lovers, living forever while the Earth turns into a wasteland. Much like how Jarmusch reversed the codes of the western film in Dead Man (1995), Jarmusch reverses the Biblical allusion by making Adam and Eve not the first humans but the last ones, watching everything humans have created fade away, and the only thing that remains is there love for each other.
The music is similar to Neil Young’s score from Dead Man but in this film Jarmusch used the music from his band SQÜRL for most of the soundtrack in the film. Adam is anti-virtuouso guitarist, playing slow, droning, distorted and operatic guitar riffs so the director’s music fits perfectly for the film’s character.
The film has a certain nostalgia for the past and specifically analog musical equipment along with a distaste for digital technology. Adam’s close friend Ian supplies him with retro guitars, recording equipment, and anything else Adam might need. Adam’s apartment is filled with old instruments, analog recording equipment, and vinyl records. When Eve comes to visit they dance to r&b music from the past. The only contemporary aspect of the film is the way it depicts Detroit which is filmed like a wasteland or rather a memory of an industrial city. Empty buildings, factories, and streets, an metonymy for the rest of Earth that is being slowly destroyed by humans or “zombies” as Adam calls them.
Only Lovers Left Alive, referred to by almost every reviewer as an unconventional romance film. Like Jarmusch’s other films, there is hardly any action in the film but instead characters actively reflecting on their existence and the world around them. Eve loves life and enjoys every moment, always dressed in white, she looks like a seductive yet dangerous angel that floats across the Earth. Adam is quite the downer, probably very bad at parties, dressed in all black and sulks around for most of the home, only happy when he is with the love of his life. Like every good romance film, the two lovers complement each other, make each one better people (or vampires) when they are together
As a vampire film, it is definitely more unconventional. Jarmusch eschews all of the modern horror tropes of vampire films, instead focusing on the day-to-day comings and goings of these two characters completing mundane tasks. Biting strangers for blood is no longer a viable source of nutrition for these modern vampires so they have to get their blood from other sources, usually hospitals and other institutions that allow them to covertly purchase blood.
The little conflict that Jarmusch does include involves Eva (Mia Wasikowska) who is Eve’s sister. Her arrival is foreshadowed three times when Adam, Eve, and Marlowe each dream of her on three separate occasions before Eva shows up at Adam’s house uninvited. Adam wants nothing to do with her while Eve is more forgiving; they mention an incident in Paris where Eva caused a ruckus of sorts but they eventually let her stay. Eva coaxes them to see live music which then causes chain of events that force Adam to flee to Tangiers with Eve.
Forced to leave his gothic safe haven in post-industrial Detroit, Adam and Eve walk through Tangiers trying to survive. Adam has lost all faith in humanity, it is questionable whether he had any to begin with. He only finds hope and comfort in the arms of his woman.