Jim Jarmusch’s vampire romance about night-owls-in-love Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) plants a stake in the heart of the popular “Twilight” teen-movie fantasy franchise. I can’t be the only moviegoer alive still left irritated by the notion that any being who had seen as much of the world as Robert Pattinson’s twinkly Edward Cullen, born back in 1901, would stick around for pre-calculus, “The Scarlet Letter,” and cafeteria flirtations with twitchy Bella Swan (Kirsten Stewart).
In “Only Lovers Left Alive,” hipster filmmaker Jarmusch (“Down by Law,” “Broken Flowers”) wonders what perfect love would be like if it spanned not years or decades but centuries. Well, first, the couple would be vampires, which makes for an intriguing premise — and not one that needs “Twilight” for inspiration when there’s already “Nosferatu,” “Let the Right One In,” and all that Hammer horror in the vaults.
And so the nocturnal Jarmusch, 61, who has never seen “Twilight,” delivers a very personal long-distance love story, which could probably be interpreted as a note to his long-time partner, Sara Driver, 58. The pair met at film school at NYU and she produced Jarmusch’s early masterpiece, “Stranger Than Paradise,” in 1984, and they’re still together today. In show business coupling, that’s an eternity.
The couple’s on-screen alter-egos, Adam and Eve, give each other emotional space – that key ingredient to lasting love — by living worlds apart. Adam resides in “Omega Man” seclusion in Detroit; Eve lives in the literary Tangier romanticized by Paul Bowles. Still, through the wonders of 21st century technology, Adam and Eve can keep in touch – and when Eve senses her man’s emotional distress, she grabs her blood stash and hops the redeye for a reunion.
Once together, Adam and Eve fall into well-worn patterns. She nurses back his will to create — because for Jarmusch, creativity is life — and gets Adam out of the house for a change. Back at his place, they listen to music and entwine around each other like beautifully decadent figures in a Klimt painting. Together they weather the arrival of her disruptive and destructive sister (Mia Wasikowska) — what couple hasn’t handled the trials of unwanted in-law houseguests, even if they don’t all bite the help?
Deep into the night, the pair takes a long moonlit drive through the urban ruins of Detroit. They are like Sunday drivers sharing a day out together in tandem peace. Adam and Eve have achieved that calm after the storm. They have long passed the early throes of passion, the distractions of jealousy and infidelity that animates “Twilight” and keeps Bella’s human heart fluttering like hummingbird wings.
And, when the couple’s blood supply dwindles, Eve whisks Adam to Morocco. In the movie’s climax — no spoilers here — we see what long-term couples know. That the efforts to shield one’s partner from danger can inspire superhuman actions. To protect the beloved’s existence, one also ensures one’s own survival.
Now that’s a marriage lesson for you.
THR’s Critic Todd McCarthy archly, and aptly, described the movie as “‘The Thin Man’ with blood cocktails.” He’s comparing Adam and Eve to Nick and Nora Charles. While this supernatural pair is edgier than Nick and Nora, those icons of boozy wedded bliss, they’re no less engaging — or well-matched.
In “Only Lovers Left Alive,” Jarmusch’s moody hero depends on a more-grounded spouse. She offers a mirror for his soul when he casts no reflection. Eve sees Adam for who he really is, warts, fangs and all, and still loves him.
It’s a vision developed not over a semester but over centuries.