“My main inspiration for this film, which isn’t referred to anywhere, is Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Adam and Eve. I’m a big Mark Twain fan, but that’s maybe my favorite book of his. ”
Only Lovers Left Alive is a 2013 British-German vampire film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, and starring Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, and Jeffrey Wright.
Married for centuries and now living half a world apart, two vampires wake as the sun goes down. The only solace he finds from miserable modernity is Eve. Lovers throughout the centuries, the two would be soul mates – if only they had souls. Adam sits holding a lute, in his cluttered Detroit Victorian , as Eve wakes up in her bedroom in Tangier, surrounded by books. Acting like addicts, blood for them is a drug that provides a wave of euphoria as well as sustenance. They are dependent on local suppliers of the “good stuff”, fearing contamination from blood poisoned by the degradation of the environment. Adam visits a local blood bank in the dead of night, masquerading as “Dr. Faust”, paying “Dr. Watson” for his coveted O negative, while Eve relies on their old friend Christopher Marlowe, who faked his death in 1593 and lives under the protection of a local man.
After influencing the careers of countless famous musicians and scientists, Adam has become withdrawn and suicidal. His desire to connect through his music is at odds with the danger of recognition as well as his contempt for the corrupt and foolish humans he refers to as “zombies”. He spends his days recording his compositions on outdated studio equipment and lamenting the state of the modern world whilst collecting vintage instruments. He pays Ian, a naive human “rock and roll kid”, to procure vintage guitars and other assorted curiosities, including a custom-made bullet with a brass casing and a wooden tip. Having acquired substantial scientific knowledge over the years, the vampire has managed to build contraptions to power both his home and vintage sports car with technology originally pioneered by Nikola Tesla.
The film is one of several Jarmusch productions, alongside films such as Night on Earth, in which the action mainly occurs at night-time. Swinton stated after the film’s release: “Jim is pretty much nocturnal, so the nightscape is pretty much his palette. There’s something about things glowing in the darkness that feels to me really Jim Jarmusch. He’s a rock star.”
The film’s greatest triumph is how it manages to avoid and subvert the clichés surroundings vampire folklore. The v-word is never mentioned, and in a playful twist, it is the humans who are derisively referred to by Adam and Eve as “the zombies”. The two of them are cultural snobs, looking down upon humans as mindless beings who go about their days without a thought to the finer things in life.
It’s a personal take on how Jarmusch himself must feel. A film-maker who has built his hipster reputation as an independent New York artist working outside the mainstream, those like him who devote their time to the counter-culture will always feel isolated from the rest of the world. In Adam and Eve’s tender relationship he has made his warmest film yet, a movie with the message that the price of genius doesn’t have to be loneliness if you find a loving kindred spirit.