That Tilda Swinton is an odd creature, isn’t she? A bizarre-looking, androgynous-appearing being, she nevertheless manages to pull off an alluring, unusual sexiness and sensuality in certain roles. She’s also a marvelous actress(a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 2007’s “Michael Clayton”), and an excellent choice to embody the “wife” vampire in Jim Jarmusch’s latest creation, “Only Lovers Left Alive”. Swinton is fascinating to watch perform and to simply look at. She has a perfect companion bloodsucker, in the eclectic Tom Hiddleston(“The Avengers”, “Thor” and its sequel, plus marvelous work in art films like “Midnight in Paris” and “The Deep Blue Sea”). This is a somber, yet slyly humorous, horror tale, with a Jarmusch screenplay that includes smart literary references and biblical allusions(Mr. Hiddleston’s character is names Adam, while Ms. Swinton is monikered Eve). “Only Lovers Left Alive” is not a complete original, but it is a damn good homage to a number of horror films and authors. You sure will get a kick watching John Hurt as Marlowe…as in Christopher.
Adam(Hiddleston)is a centuries-old “creature of the night”, meting out his existence in a rundown home located within a Detroit slum. He creates rock music that beguiles hordes of fans who threaten his reclusivity, he collects rare, antique instruments, and visits a blood bank to feed—so as to avoid killing the innocent humans he refers to derogatorily as “zombies”. He’s also depressed with his eternal existence, and coerces a young, human admirer(a terrific Anton Yelchin)to bring him a wooden bullet, saying it’s for a special “project”. Meanwhile, Eve(Swinton)has been whiling away in Tangier for years, away from her companion Adam, and in the company of the elderly, vampiric Marlowe(the always welcome, Mr. Hurt). When Eve senses Adam’s ennui, she immediately flies to his side(the “red-eye”, of course!), and attempts to pull him out of his doldrums. But is there even a pinch of surprise, when the arrival of Eve’s younger sister, Ava(a perfect Mia Wasikowska), spells major trouble for the newly reunited pair.
Rocker fanged demons? Haven’t we been there with “The Vampire Lestat”? Depressed with their “curse” vampires? Isn’t that always the case? Yeah, but so what. In Jarmusch’s hands, it’s rich and satisfying. Maybe not the equal of last year’s superb “Byzantium” from Neil Jordan—but still pretty damn close. There is also a distinctive Cronenbergian feel in the Tangier-shot portion…just try not recalling Paul Bowles, William S. Burroughs, and the film version of “Naked Lunch”. As well as “The Sheltering Sky”. Also, I sure got a kick out of seeing David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” on one of the vampire’s reading lists. Those in the know will realize that it is an apt and poignant inclusion. The acting is solid, the music is mesmerizing, the tone is elegant and the pace is measured. If you like your bloodsuckers pensive and forlorn, and unquestionably adult…this one is for you. And outside of a glaring and disruptive(and decidedly avoidable)misstep late in the game, the script and its trajectory are nearly letter-perfect. Jarmusch followers should sink their teeth right in.