This was a film that I had wanted to watch since seeing the trailer during one of our many cinema visits. The theme of vampires in a modern world is one that has been done repeatedly over the years and with varying degrees of success, but Only Lovers Left Alive seemed to have a different focus from the trailer that I had not really seen before and I went into the movie with high expectations.
Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are two exceptionally old vampires who are trying to deal with the modern world they now live in. Adam is a reclusive musician living in Detroit who is finding it hard to deal with contemporary society and the ‘zombies’ (humans) around him. As a lover of music and science, he finds it difficult to see why humans are acting the way they are and not learning from past mistakes that he has lived through. Gathering blood from the local hospital, supplied by an unquestioning doctor, Adam collects beautiful instruments but has become depressed with his immortal life and considers ending it all with a wooden bullet, but after a video call from his wife, Eve (Tilda Swinton) who is living a Tangier, she senses Adam’s mood and travels to him. After centauries in love, but with recent time spent apart, they are reunited and begin life together again. They enjoy playing chess, dancing together and driving around Detroit at night looking at dilapidated buildings. Their mellow reunion is interrupted by Eve’s younger sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), coming to visit them and bringing her energetic and youthful exuberance into their quite existence. Adam and Eve have to deal with the fallout of a reluctant night out that has lasting consequences for the couple.
There is no real story that we follow in the traditional sense but we are offered a glimpse into the eternal love of two exceptionally old souls that have very different views on the world but that always seem to balance each other out. Jim Jarmusch has managed to write engaging characters that are like separate halves of the same being, Adam all dark and Eve the light to give equilibrium to him. They seem to offer polarizing opinions about society as a whole and manage through the wonderful dialogue written for them to express these views clearly and poetically without being patronizing or preachy. They are both intellectuals, looking at the world through the eyes of individuals who have lived through many ages and know some of the most influential people in modern history, mentioning associates such as Newton, Galileo and Byron. Adam is depressed and at odds with the world he now lives in, focusing in on all the damage that humans have managed to do and how there is a lack of artistic creativity. Eve sees that wonderful nature that is all around and that no matter how tarnished everything may seem there is always the chance for a redemption that will bring about a new blooming. Their relationship is shown as so solid it can withstand them living on separate continents and once they come back together we are treated to a snapshot of their lives. Jarmusch provides them with shared interests and allows conversations to flow naturally while they discuss their past and others they have known over their years. With there not being many action points through the run-time, the screenplay had to be strong and it is, with the script having a sarcastic humour, delivered brilliantly by all the cast but especially Hiddleston, witty cultural references that reveal the age of the characters and smooth exchanges that highlight each personality clearly and in detail.
The cast are aesthetically well suited with Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton and Mia Wasikowska all having ethereal beauty that meshes well with the idealised stature and elegance of the vampire myth and the performances match. Hiddleston and Swinton are sublime in their roles, oozing sensual energy and personality. They are not the typical vampires seen on screen and appear very human, offering simple interactions that manage to portray how in love and at ease they are with each other after many centuries, falling back in sync the moment they are reunited. They have amazing chemistry and play off each other, and the other cast members, really well offering the central focus point for the film. Wasikowska brings vitality and youthfulness to her role as Ava offering an opposite energy the Adam and Eve. Ava lives in the now, always wanting to fulfil her hunger without thinking about the consequences, she appears to be child-like but with the years behind her to know better. Anton Yelchin, playing Ian who is Adam’s outside world contact, and John Hurt, portraying Marlowe a vampire that Eve knows in Tangier, are great in their supporting roles. Yelchin offers human interaction and a lead into the outside world that plays a role in the interaction with Ava later in the film and Hurt is thoughtful and sincere in his limited, but important part. I thought the cast was great and every person embodied their character fully and authentically.
Jim Jarmusch’s direction is exquisite with the whole movie shot at night with sensual lighting and deepening shadows. The derelict Detroit buildings that were once beautiful but now house parking lots are visited and it appears fairly obvious that Jarmusch is commenting on how society has managed to take prominent artistic creations and cast them aside without a second thought. The character design again manages to emphasise how Adam and Eve are yin and yang, light and dark. Eve always dresses in light colours and has silvery, blonde hair whereas Adam in contrast is always shown in dark clothes with hair to match. They fit together perfectly, whereas Ava is a mish-mash of colours and styles and this underscores how she does not fit into the world that they have built together. The musical score, primarily from Jarmusch’s band SQURL, is suited amazingly well to the film and slots alongside the conversations happening on screen while offering further emphasis to the moods of the characters we are witnessing.
Some may find that film not to their tastes as it is slow and dialogue heavy with no real story to latch onto. However, I found this to be engaging as I was drawn into their world and lives, but could see how others would see this as boring and miss the defined beginning, middle and end to the tale. It does have lots of cultural references that may not be clear to every viewer and may be seen as self-important to some, but for me the writing, direction, music and cast all came together wonderfully for a film that I thoroughly enjoyed and that left me thinking long after it has finished.