Eve (Tilda Swinton) and her lover Adam (Tom Hiddleston) are vampires. She reclines in Tangier while he hides himself away in a crumbling house in Detroit. She is an avid reader, capable of devouring entire books in a matter of minutes while music is his poison, both listening and creating.
Both have negotiated dignified ways of procuring the blood they need to survive. Eve gets hers from fellow vamp Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) while Adam has struck a deal with a local doctor (Jeffrey Wright).
Their centuries of existence have been ones of art and culture and enjoyment of human creativity. They talk at length of the famous people they have known. Writers, actors, scientists. But into their world is coming a wild card, Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), who has not yet withdrawn from humanity and who still finds blood best served warm and fresh from a jugular…
Only Lovers Left Alive sees Jim Jarmusch at his most laconic and his most elegant. It is a film paced for its characters, luxurious and deliberate. Indeed, coupled with the near-total lack of plot for the first half of the piece, this feels like a misstep. It is more a character study than a story.
Without a doubt, this is a movie that loves its lead pairing. The camera spins around them, hovers over them and adores them. Hiddleston is all lean, tousled angst while Swinton is heroin-chic opaque. They are striking to look at and so is the set design.
We spend most our time at Adam’s abode, a cluttered mish-mash of electrical parts, antique musical instruments and peeling paint. Outside, Detroit is a deserted ruin, scorched yellow by streetlights with empty streets lined by shuttered and crumbling buildings.
The pair drive through the streets, mourning the city’s loss while promising its rebirth. They also occasionally pause to point out sights such as Jack White’s childhood home.
The mix makes for an odd film. There is so much time-jumping name-dropping and focus on the consumption of the arts that the question arises – is Jarmusch mocking his characters or glorifying them?
The pair themselves are hyper-cool to the point of cartoonish. They watch bands in a club while wearing sunglasses. They dance and listen to music and are rarely anything above relaxed. Are these the trendy types, doomed to only care about themselves, the superficial and brushes with fame as the world crumbles around them? Until only lovers are left alive?
There are lengthy interviews with Swinton, Hiddleston and (somewhat shorter) Wasikowska as each discusses the film, their character and how they became involved as actors. In addition, there are the usual array of deleted (and extended) scenes.
The main extra, though, is a 50-minute behind-the-scenes piece. What makes it interesting is that it is not the usual ‘talking heads’ approach. Instead, it is a fly-on-the-wall look at the shooting of various key scenes. We see scenes being rehearsed and rewritten the night before shooting, blocking being figured out on the spot and continuity concerns.
Perhaps the most striking aspect is how calm and even Jarmusch and his two leads are throughout. It appears that Jarmusch establishes the same tone for work on the set as will happen in the scenes, to make it easier for his actors to drop into the moment as required.