Each generation has the vampire legend it deserves. Generation Y got the chaste Twilight saga while Generation X-ers got something more ironic and sexually ambiguous like Fright Night (1985). Contemporary vampire lovers who feel a bit bereft by current two-fanged conservatism can look to Jim Jarmusch, the reliable peddler of independent, cool cinema, whose new film Only Lovers Left Alive, is a witty, gorgeously photographed vampire story. There’s none of the obvious sexual metaphors, though. Instead, Jarmusch has woven a poignant reflection on memory, friendship and the post-digital zeitgeist.
Adam (Hiddleston) is a reclusive rock star living in the perfect urban hideaway of contemporary America that is post-economic crash Detroit. His wife, Eve (Swinton) is based in Tangiers where she enjoys a close relationship with vampire Marlowe (Hurt), who lives in the back of a bar and procures fresh blood for them. These are modern, vegan vampires who no longer kill to get their food (‘it’s the 21st century!’) and are also worried about the toxic content in humans, one of the many references to contemporary society the film makes in a lighthearted way. Jarmusch’s vampires buy organic.
Eve senses Adam needs her in Detroit because of his concerns with zombies (regular humans). Despite the hassle of having to arrange nocturnal flights, she agrees to make the move, bringing her favorite books in her luggage. All is well for a while. The two vampire lovers go for drives around the empty city and talk about culture, spilling out their immense knowledge amassed throughout the centuries. They can date anything they touch and know the Latin name for all plants. A visit from Eve’s younger sister, Ava (Kasikowska), disrupts their bohemian peace and quiet and the pair is forced to flee together to Tangiers.
This broad outline gives an idea of the film’s plot. However, Jarmusch, as usual, focuses, on dialogues and character development rather than an action-packed plot, regaling the audience with pop cultural references and quirky moments in order to keep the interest.
Behind the vampire love story, there are some pertinent cultural readings. I personally think Jarmusch used the vampire legend as a way to make a witty comment on the post-digital cultural environment. Some funny references to YouTube highlight that intention. The vampires represent a more solid type of knowledge, the slow-burning acquisition of profound, solid knowledge as opposed to vapid, ephemeral digital information. Vampires are the very antidote of our accelerated info-apocalypse. In this sense, they represent a sense of nostalgia for an era of books, philosophy and quality music.
Film lovers familiar with Jarmusch will probably like this film, which bears his clear authorial signature, besides an absorbing storyline and beautiful cinematography (the opening sequence is a killer). Tilda Swinton is perfectly cast as Eve and there’s real chemistry between her and the deep-voiced, world-weary Hiddleston.