How to make a vampire love story without cheese and fluff indeed? Easy. You do it the Jim Jarmusch way. Jarmusch, who is a skilled agent of deconstruction has done this time for the vampire genre what he has achieved for the samurai film in GHOST DOG. At all times, ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE is lyrical, hypnotic, and also sincere. Its main characters, despite being vampires surprisingly have a big heart.
It's a reflection on existence really, as Adam (Tom Hiddleston) grows weary of the futility of living. In fact, he goes as far as to order a very special bullet made of strong wood, telling his human acquaintance Ian (Anton Yelchin) that it's for a "special project".
Adam hides from the world in his gothic Detroit abode, where antique memorabilia abound, from his guitars to his television set. As someone who has lived for centuries, he has influenced countless musicians and scientists, yet he refuses to be recognized for his work, which is more of a safety precaution rather than sheer arrogance.
A continent away, in Tangier, Eve (Tilda Swinton) visits her friend Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) for a supply of fresh and uncontaminated human blood. Eventually, blood has become a rare commodity now, unlike in the olden times where vampires just suck people dry and be done with it. In this version, vampires do fear blood diseases, like Hepatitis B, or worse, AIDS.
Adam in turn, gets his dose of medicine from Doctor Watson (Jeffrey Wright) at the blood bank. The literary references could not have been more overt. In a later scene, Eve uses a fake name to book plane tickets: Daisy Buchanan.
There's a lot of contemplating, lot of reminiscing, and the pace is particularly sluggish within the first half of the movie, although the passionate performances of Hiddleston and Swinton keep things interesting. The cinematography by Yorick Le Saux is hauntingly surreal, and there's a darkness to the film that slowly works its way into our senses.
The pace picks up midway, as soon as Eve's troublemaker sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) enters frame. For a certain reason, Adam seems not so quite fond of her, and like a typical human dysfunctional family, there is a lot of tension brewing underneath. Seductive, playful, and reckless, everything about Ava spells trouble. And Wasikowska plays Ava with much energy.
But the question remains: what to live for when you can live forever? The irony in the eternal life of being an undead is that it has its lag moments, so what to live for indeed? For Adam and Eve, if it's not music, then love. Their love has to survive. They have to survive.
Jim Jarmusch has taken an ordinary genre piece and turned it into arthouse cinema, and I bet vampires themselves (had they really existed, or hadn't they?) would want to see this movie and loved how they are portrayed. Seeing a vampire movie with this level of wit and research has never felt so exciting since the Anne Rice movie adaptations. ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE has a solid story that not only makes us feel more alive, but also renders vampires in equal footing with humans, until there's no distinction anymore.