Director Jim Jarmusch has settled into a phase of his career in which he keeps applying his funky, low-key sensibilities to various genres. There was a Western (Dead Man), a crime thriller (The Limits of Control), and what passes in his world for an action flick (Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai). Only Lovers Left Alive is his take on the vampire movie, and if you're at all familiar with Jarmusch's unique, deadpan aesthetic, rest assured that the film delivers exactly what you would expect.
The story centers on Adam (Tom Hiddleston), a centuries-old vampire who currently resides in the very run-down city of Detroit. He makes money as a musician -- he has a devoted cult following -- and has a single human contact, the closest thing he has to a friend, who brings him supplies. He's also arranged a deal with a local doctor to make withdrawls from a blood bank; that way, he doesn't have to kill people to stay alive.
Adam is initially depressed because the love of his life -- or afterlife, rather -- Eve (Tilda Swinton), has been avoiding him in Europe for the last hundred years or so. He sends word that he wants to reunite, and she soon leaves her mentor (John Hurt) and travels to the Motor City. Together, the duo mope beautifully until they are interrupted by the arrival of Eve's wild-child sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), whom Adam hates.
As is often -- though not always -- the case with Jarmusch, the plot of Only Lovers Left Alive isn't as important as the mood, the tone, and the thematic suggestions that swirl around the main characters. The movie is offbeat in the traditional sense: The rhythms are slower than you'd expect, but they never feel stilted. Jarmusch has a fondness for the goofy -- like the Biblical allusions in the protagonists' names -- that keeps this from ever becoming too straight-laced.
The movie eventually evolves into a mood piece that uses the folklore of vampires as a metaphor for how human beings are living too long and using up precious resources. The film seems to be saying that all that's left are love and music, and that there are worse ways to go out as a civilization. Jarmusch shot the picture in Detroit and uses the city's lived-in, dilapidated surroundings to superb effect -- they underscore the story's elegiac themes.
As corny as Jarmusch can get -- his vampires refer to humans as "zombies" -- this is not a movie played for laughs, nor is it particularly easy to warm up to. The director is more or less demanding that you meet him on his terms, but that's not a problem when he already possesses a very well-known and quickly identifiable style. Only Lovers Left Alive shows that Jarmusch's muse seems to be as eternal as Adam and Eve.