When immortality becomes a drag music can be a lifeline
Only Lovers Left Alive movie poster. Via Wikipedia, Fair use.
Eve and Adam are two immortal lovers who have been together for hundreds of years. Married three times, most recently in the 1800s, they are living apart, with Eve (played by Tilda Swinton) in Tangiers surrounded by books and hanging out with the undead Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) and Adam (Tom Hiddleston) playing and composing music in the solitude of mostly deserted Detroit. When Eve learns Adam is depressed and possibly suicidal she makes a night flight all the way to Detroit to see him. He seems happier for a while, but their idyll is disrupted by the arrival of Eve's younger sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), who brings chaos and destruction in her wake.
The movie plays with the tropes of the vampire genre in interesting ways. It's not new for a vampire film to be a love story rather than a horror flick, but this is not the experienced older man seducing younger woman type of romance, but rather something based on mutual support and adoration. It's also almost entirely lacking in violence and gore. The vampires do attack people, but only off screen, and Marlowe, Eve and Adam prefer not to do so (Eve quips that killing is "so 15th century"), instead living off blood obtained from unspecified donors. Polluted human blood is a danger to them, reflecting the pollution of the planet which Adam blames on humans, whom he disdainfully refers to as "zombies". While Adam is to some extent the tortured soul type of moody vampire (like Louis in Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles), Eve rejoices in her immortality because it gives her more opportunities to read and Marlowe is spending his time mentoring a young writer. The three of them act as patrons of the arts and muses and are secretly behind many of the great works of music and literature in history. The part about Marlowe having written the works of Shakespeare could have been more subtle.
The soundtrack, which provides much of the film's atmosphere, is mostly provided by the director, Jim Jarmusch's band SQÜRL. There is also a hauntingly beautiful song performed by Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan towards the end of the film.
In light of his recent death, John Hurt's performance as Marlowe and his final scene in this film are particularly poignant. Have the tissues ready. All the actors give great performances, but Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston really stand out with their intensity and quiet, understated humour. The visuals are gorgeous, with lots shots from above and odd camera angles. If you're given to motion sickness beware of the opening scene in which the camera keeps circling around above Eve and Adam as they sleep. It manages to find the beauty in the decaying city of Detroit in languid drives around the city at night. It reminded me a little of Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive (2011) with the slow plot and lingering moody scenes, but with more dialogue and less smashing people with hammers.
Only Lovers Left Alive is a moody, languorous film full of wonderful performances, sparse dialogue and beautiful imagery and music.