Film review: ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ is a beautiful ode to mankind’s achievements

Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are two extremely reflective vampires in Jim Jarmusch’s superb Only Lovers Left Alive.
Mike D'Angelo

Four stars

Only Lovers Left Alive Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska. Directed by Jim Jarmusch. Rated R. Opens Friday.

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are vampires, it’s true, but Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive is no ordinary vampire movie. Apart from some minor logistical problems obtaining human blood (which they prefer to do nonviolently), these creatures of the night ignore most of the usual mythology, preferring to spend their time wandering the streets of Detroit (where he currently lives) or Tangier (where she currently lives) admiring the beauty that humanity creates and then largely ignores.

Not until roughly an hour has passed does a rudimentary plot emerge, kicked off by the arrival of Eve’s troublemaking sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), a much younger vampire who lacks both Adam and Eve’s refined aesthetic sensibility and their self-control. Honestly, Jarmusch didn’t need a story here, though the one he finally offers is plenty entertaining. Only Lovers Left Alive works sublimely as a paean to mankind’s greatest achievements, which paradoxically come alive again as celebrated by the undead. Adam collects vintage guitars and old 45s; Eve is equally enamored of old-fashioned books and newfangled technology. They’ve been alive for centuries—hanging out with such fellow vampires as Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), the true author of Shakespeare’s plays—and function less as monsters than as the planet’s curators, allowing Jarmusch to riff on everything he loves. Woody Allen’s Manhattan includes a scene in which his alter ego lists all the things that make life worth living; Only Lovers Left Alive is that scene expanded into an entire movie, and it makes a deeply moving case.

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