Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive mourns the demise of a beautiful scene—a cultured hipster vampire scene that has lasted for hundreds of years. Now mortals—or zombies, as the vampirati ironically call them—are destroying nature, the root of all beauty, and cutting the blood supply with bad stuff. Brilliant and wise vampires, such as the 500 hundred year-old playwright, Christopher Marlowe, are dying of it. And who knows? In this fallen age, maybe vampires themselves are passing tainted hemoglobin for money or kicks.
Secreted away in a velvety-dark mansion in feral Detroit, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) composes experimental music on analog equipment, buys blood from a louche hospital employee, and loads his gun with a wooden bullet to shoot into his own heart when he can’t take the zombies for one more century. His long-time wife, Eve (Tilda Swinton), finds the gun on a visit from her home in Morocco, and pleads with Adam to cheer up. Their love, still passionate, abides separation; time is on their side. That is fortunate, since the nearly-albino Eve loves the hot white nights of Tangier as much as the raven-tressed Adam thrives in the dank urban underbrush.
Less gloomy than Adam, Eve too must face the possibility of expulsion from Eden after her callow younger sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), shows up at Adam’s house. A modern take on The Big Sleep’s thumb-sucking party girl, Carmen Sternwood, Ava is wont to break into her brother-in-law’s stash, gulping down the blood that her betters sip from sherry glasses–and no wonder, since the pure elixir affects those who imbibe it like a heroin smoothie. One night, Ava brings home an admirer, sucks his blood, and leaves him for dead. Adam and Eve send her packing, but now they too must skip town. After a grueling trans-Atlantic flight without nourishment, the couple are fading by the time they arrive in Morocco, only to find that their connection has fallen through. It looks like the end.
The film’s title has a double meaning. Lovers—that is, the vampirati—are the only creatures left on Earth who are truly alive: to beauty, to nature, to art, to the art of love. What’s more, Adam and Eve, as the blood supply dries up, are virtually the only cool vampires left alive, and perhaps not for long. Charming and visually exquisite, the film is an elegy for a lost sensibility, wrought by a director who once found this world stranger than Paradise.