Now that Tom Hiddleston is (thank you, Jesus!) single again, it’s as good a time as any to gaze at him, the thinking cinephile’s dreamboat, in Jim Jarmusch’s excellent 2013 vampire dramedy. Hiddleston emotes broodily as a depressed Detroit musician named Adam, opposite the always-brilliant Tilda Swinton as Eve, his beloved who lives across the globe from him yet is still profoundly connected to him. When Adam plunges into suicidal despair in the film’s early scenes, Eve rushes to his rescue. The two lovers are a gorgeous, if possibly doomed, pair who complement one another in virtually every way. Though the film leaves much unspoken about the exact nature of their relationship (how did they meet? why were they living separately? are they even the same sort of creature?), it nevertheless makes us feel the intensity of their bond and the inevitability of their mutual entanglement in every shot. This is partly due to the deft performances of the leads, and partly due to Jarmusch’s famous attentiveness to evocative detail. Low on incident but high on atmospherics, the film creates a slyly seductive mood with exactly the right music, the right images, and the right words.
As the film opens, we hear a slowed-down and distorted version of Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love,” while the camera hovers and spins over first Eve and then Adam as they sleep in their respective homes on opposite sides of the world. Intercut with a shot of a spinning record, the scene at once suggests vertigo, spiraling into depression, and a yin/yang union between the two opposites who attract one another, no matter how far apart they are. This neatly hints at something essential about this couple: that their lives, hearts, and destinies are bound up in one another, despite—or maybe because of—their essential difference. Adam is dark in appearance and temperament, his matted black hair only partly hiding his near-permanent mope; Eve is light, radiating a fragile but perpetual joy and wonder at every new thing or idea that draws her attention, whether it is a rare and out-of-season mushroom growing in Adam’s yard or Adam’s explanation of the physics of “spooky action at a distance.” This latter phenomenon is the perfect metaphor for the relationship between the two: in Adam’s words, “When you separate an entwined particle and you move each part away from the other, even at opposite ends of the universe, if you alter or affect one, the other will be identically altered or affected.” For Adam and Eve, the destiny of one is the destiny of both.
The conversations between the two characters that make up most of the early scenes of the movie are a delight, and I almost wished that the whole film would just be the two of them talking—like an undead My Dinner with Andre. The two banter about science and technology, music, one another, the “zombies” (us) whose history they have observed and shaped, and the literature they have influenced or even produced. (There’s a cute running joke about Eve’s close friend, who turns out to be Christopher Marlowe, being the actual author of the works of William Shakespeare.) We follow the two as they pursue their daily lives, which includes procuring rare musical instruments from Adam’s personal shopper Ian (the late Anton Yelchin in a sweet and poignant appearance) and buying blood under the table from miscellaneous unnamed medical sources and one medical researcher (Jeffrey Wright) who is dangerously close to figuring out why Adam wants a supply. All is more or less well, however—until the arrival of Eve’s troublemaking sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), who gleefully and anarchically throws a monkey wrench into all their lives.
As vampire hangout movies go, this one feels at once organic and thoughtfully crafted. It occupies a space somewhere between Taika Waititi’s hilarious mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows (2014) and Ana Lily Amirpour’s wry, moody A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014). It has the loose, shaggy, and intimate feeling of early Jarmusch (Strangers in Paradise, Down by Law), but with a spooky, ominous undertone. There’s a bare minimum of gore here; mostly, threat lurks around dark corners in a Hitchcockian vein. You couldn’t ask for a better way to spend Halloween.
Only Lovers Left Alive plays at the Grand Illusion starting October 28.