The vampire genre has at last been played out enough for Jim Jarmusch to finally dabble in it. In his gothic, melancholy film, Only Lovers Left Alive, we're left with the sense that even vampires feel obligated to go through the motions of survival. Morose vampire/musician Adam (Tom Hiddleston) lives and writes music in Detroit, relying on an errand boy/roadie type named Ian (Anton Yelchin) to get him instruments and other provisions for survival so that he can remain a recluse.
Although Adam has spent centuries collaborating with some of the world's best musicians, he has grown weary and jaded in the modern epoch. Contemplating suicide to escape a world he deems full of "zombies" (this is his word for addressing humans), he asks Ian to bring him a wooden bullet for an "art project" (because what's more artistic than suicide?). His sadness is given a brief reprieve when he gets a phone call from his wife, Eve (Tilda Swinton), who has been living in Tangier. Adam's visible state of misery alarms her enough to prompt her to grab a night flight immediately--even though it means leaving her dear friend and blood source Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) behind for awhile.
Upon seeing Eve in the flesh again, Adam's faith in existence is briefly renewed. Enjoying one another's company together, the two talk about the great men Adam has known, the state of civilization, eat blood popsicles, play chess and occasionally dance while listening to Motown music. Their quiet, contented existence is interrupted by the unwanted appearance of Eve's sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), a freeloading sort who's been living in Los Angeles, which Adam refers to as "zombie central."
Adam doesn't even attempt to mask his hatred for Ava as she acts the free-spirited vacuous type by bouncing around and blaring his music loudly. Eve tries her best to appease Adam in order to get him to let Ava stay in his house. Adam is reluctant to trust her with their scarce supply of blood--vials of Type O Negative he pays a doctor off to obtain. Because the human blood source is so contaminated in the twenty-first century, Eve and Adam are hesitant to trust conventional means of blood-draining. Ava, on the other hand, has no problem sucking the life force out of people. In fact, she ends up biting Ian one night after forcing Eve and Adam to go out to a bar to see some live music.
After kicking Ava out, much to her chagrin, Eve and Adam know that they have to get rid of Ian's body and then flee the scene so as not to be linked to the crime. Once Ava calls them judgmental and condescending for criticizing her for deigning to consume blood in the old school way, the two get down to the business of tossing Ian's body into the back of their trunk and throwing his body into some skin-eating acid water (of which Eve notes, "That was very...visual.").
Because they have to depart in such a hurry, Eve insists that they leave behind Adam's beloved instruments and the Type O Negative blood. Certain that Marlowe will be able to supply them with more high-quality blood, Eve is troubled to find that his health has deteriorated after drinking some bad blood from the Tangier clinic. When he sees Adam again, he cautions from his deathbed, "Humility will get you nowhere." To that point, Only Lovers Left Alive is very much a comment not only on love and the decline of the modern man, but also the nature of art and its purpose to the creator. When they leave Marlowe to his inevitable death, Adam is consoled by the sight of a woman singing. Eve remarks to Adam, "I think she's going to be famous." Adam responds, "God, I hope not. She's too good for that."
In the end, Eve and Adam are forced to perform the very act that they chastised Ava for in order to go on surviving. There is beauty in their hypocrisy, and their desire to go on living as lovers devoted to one another. And as compared with Jarmusch's last film, 2009's The Limits of Control (also starring Tilda Swinton), Only Lovers Left Alive is a more succinct, self-restrained work from a writer-director who consistently improves upon his canon.