In 2016, the film was ranked among the 100 greatest films since 2000 in an international critics poll by 177 critics around the world.
Married for centuries and now living half a world apart, two vampires wake as the sun goes down. Adam sits holding a lute, in his cluttered Detroit Victorian, as Eve wakes up in her bedroom in Tangier, surrounded by books. Rather than feeding on humans, they are like addicts, dependent on local suppliers of the "good stuff" because they fear 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 now 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After influencing the careers of countless famous musicians and scientists, Adam has become withdrawn and suicidal.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 He spends his days recording his compositions on outdated studio equipment and lamenting the state of the modern world whilst collecting vintage instruments.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 young music fan, to procure vintage guitars and other assorted curiosities, including a custom-made wooden bullet with a brass casing. 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. His reclusive nature adds to his mystique as a musician and composer, and he is horrified when some intrepid fans turn up on his doorstep. Ian promises to discreetly spread rumors about Adam living elsewhere to draw them away.
When Eve calls, she recognizes that he is despondent and decides to come to Detroit. Soon after she arrives, Adam goes out for more blood and she discovers a small revolver under the bed, finds the wooden bullet and senses that it is newly made. She confronts him when he returns, chiding him for wasting the time and opportunities he has to enjoy the world as well as their relationship. They spend their nights cruising the empty streets of Detroit, listening to music and playing chess. But their idyllic seclusion is shattered by the arrival of Eve's younger sister, Ava, from Los Angeles. Ava gorges herself on their stash of the "good stuff," and hungry for excitement, persuades them to go out to a local club with Ian, where they hear Adam's music when the band, White Hills, finishes their set. Ava offers Ian a hit off the flask she secretly filled with blood and brought to the club, and Adam snatches it from her hand with supernatural speed, then insists that they all depart. Before dawn, Ava kills Ian by drinking too much of his blood, and Adam kicks her out of the house.
Adam and Eve dispose of Ian's corpse in an acid pool in an abandoned factory. Ian's murder, and the appearance of another bunch of Adam's fans at the house, compel the couple to hastily return to Tangier with only what they can carry onto the plane. Desperately hungry for blood, they visit Marlowe, and learn that their long-time friend and mentor has been poisoned by a batch of contaminated blood. After they discuss how Marlowe secretly penned most of Shakespeare's plays, Marlowe dies. Eve takes all of Adam's ready cash and leaves him with the promise of a gift. He is captivated by the music from a nearby club, where Lebanese singer Yasmine is finishing a haunting song. Eve reappears with a beautiful oud, and as they sit together outdoors and contemplate their likely demise, they spot a pair of young lovers kissing. "What choice do we have?" Adam remarks before the two of them approach the couple with glowing eyes and their fangs exposed.Tilda Swinton as Eve
Tom Hiddleston as Adam
Mia Wasikowska as Ava
Anton Yelchin as Ian
Jeffrey Wright as Dr. Watson
Slimane Dazi as Bilal
John Hurt as Christopher Marlowe
Yasmine Hamdan as Yasmine
White Hills as themselves
In August 2010, Jarmusch said that Tilda Swinton, Michael Fassbender, Mia Wasikowska, and John Hurt had agreed to join the film, described by Jarmusch in May 2011 as a "crypto-vampire love story," but he did not have financing yet. Financing the film was a difficult process for the director, and he explained at the film's world premiere at the Cannes International Film Festival in May 2013 that, "it's getting more and more difficult for films that are a little unusual, or not predictable, or don't satisfy people's expectations of something."
Jarmusch revealed in 2014 that, after seven years of frustration, Swinton said to him: "That's good news, it means that now is not the time. It will happen when it needs to happen." Jarmusch eventually received a US$7 million budget from the German "NRW Filmstiftung". Producer Jeremy Thomas later said that Jarmusch is "one of the great American independent film-makers – he's the last of the line. People are not coming through like that any more".
In January 2012, Tom Hiddleston replaced Fassbender prior to the beginning of filming. The film began shooting in June 2012 in numerous locations: in the Brush Park district of Detroit, Michigan, U.S.; Tangier, Morocco; and Hamburg and Cologne, Germany. Filming lasted seven weeks.
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."
Jarmusch's band SQÜRL, primarily responsible for the film's score, opens the film with a version of Wanda Jackson’s 1961 song "Funnel of Love." Other contributors to the soundtrack are Zola Jesus (a.k.a. Nika Roza Danilova) and Lebanese vocalist Yasmine Hamdan, while Dutch lute player Jozef van Wissem's compositions formed a core element of the film's overall aural aesthetic.
During the week of the soundtrack album's release, in April 2014, Van Wissem explained:
I know the way [Jarmusch] makes his films is kind of like a musician. He has music in his head when he’s writing a script so it’s more informed by a tonal thing than it is by anything else ... I feel that I’m sort of political. Jim’s film is anti-contemporary-society. And the lute goes against all technology and against all computers and against all the shit you don’t need.
Van Wissem also described the film as "a very personal film, maybe even autobiographical," further explaining that "Jim is a cultural sponge, he absorbs everything."
A concert was held at the Santos Party House venue in New York City in April 2014 to celebrate the release of Jarmusch's eleventh feature film. During the Santos event, Jesus performed with van Wissem on both a "pseudo-Gregorian" piece from the film's soundtrack and an unrecorded collaboration.
The list of songs:"Funnel of Love" - Wanda Jackson
"Harissa" - Kasbah Rockers
"Caprice No. 5 in A Minor" - Charles Yang (composed by Niccolò Paganini)
"Gamil" - Y.A.S.
"Can't Hardly Stand It" - Charlie Feathers
"Trapped By a Thing Called Love" - Denise LaSalle
"Soul Dracula" - Hot Blood
"Under Skin Or By Name" - White Hills
"Red Eyes and Tears" - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
"Little Village" - Bill Laswell
"Hal" - Yasmine Hamdan
In April 2013, the film was added to the 2013 Cannes Film Festival in the competition section. It was shown at several film festivals, such as the September 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, four screenings at the September/October 2013 Reykjavík International Film Festival, and as an opening film for the 4th American Film Festival held in Wrocław, Poland.
The film was officially released in the United Kingdom on 21 February 2014, and opened in the United States on 11 April 2014.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, gives the film an approval rating of 86% based on 167 reviews. The critical consensus states that "Worth watching for Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton's performances alone, Only Lovers Left Alive finds writer-director Jim Jarmusch adding a typically offbeat entry to the vampire genre." Metacritic gave the film a rating of 79/100 based on 41 reviews.
Scott A. Gray of Exclaim! gave the film 8 out of 10, calling it "a visually poetic love story with a wry, jaded sense of humour about finding reasons to wake up every night." Calum Marsh of Slant Magazine gave it 3 out of 4 stars. Jonathan Romney of Screen International commented that it is Jarmusch's most poetic film since Dead Man.
Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter described the film as "the perennial downtown filmmaker's best work in many years, probably since 1995's Dead Man, with which it shares a sense of quiet, heady, perilous passage." Jonathan Hatfull of SciFiNow wrote that it is Jarmusch's best film since Ghost Dog.
Robbie Collin from The Daily Telegraph awarded the film 4 out of 5 stars and praised the performances of Swinton and Hiddleston: "In the time-honoured Jarmuschian fashion, the few things that happen in Only Lovers Left Alive happen very slowly, but the dialogue is always gloomily amusing, and Swinton and Hiddleston's delivery of the gags is as cold and crisp as footsteps in fresh snow." Jessica Kiang of IndieWire gave the film a B+ grade, saying, "the real pleasure of the film is in its languid droll cool and its romantic portrayal of the central couple, who are now our number one role models in the inevitable event of us turning vampiric."
Tim Grierson of Paste noted that "Hiddleston and Swinton play their characters not as blasé hipsters but, rather, deeply reflective, almost regretful old souls who seem to have decided that love is about the only thing you can count on." Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave the film 3 out of 5 stars, pointing that Adam and Eve look more like "well-born incestuous siblings" in spite of being lovers, while the Observer's Jonathan Romney concluded that the film is "a droll, classy piece of cinematic dandyism that makes the Twilight cycle redundant in one exquisitely languid stroke."
Kurt Halfyard of Twitch Film commented: "Retro recording equipment hasn't looked this claustrophobically sexy since Berberian Sound Studio." Alfred Joyner of International Business Times felt that "the melancholy that permeates Motown in the film could be seen as Jarmusch's take on the loss of America's greatness in the 21st century."