“I’m a survivor baby!”
Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch (Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Coffee & Cigarettes) Only Lovers Left Alive follows insatiably-in-love couple Adam and Eve, imperturbably played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, as they are reunited after some time apart. Adam and Eve are the coolest vampires since David and his biker crew from The Lost Boys, except unlike most denizens of the night they don’t bite necks. “This is the 21st century…” as Eve concludes and they have to acquire sustenance in a more mannerly way.
Eve roams the eerily quiet streets of Tangier at night and is mentored by John Hurt’s Kit Marlowe, another bloodsucker who we later find out is still troubled by Shakespeare’s successful accreditation of his own work. Kit provides Eve with O-Negative human blood, the best of the best, the good stuff. While Eve lingers in late night cafés and ignoring the irritating locals, Adam has made house in Detroit. He is a broody musician who has allowed his immortal depression consume his existence. He doesn’t have a mentor but he does have some “friends” that help him out in his time of need. Jeffery Wright is the doctor who supplies the blood and Anton Yelchin plays Ian, the musician friend who supplies everything else. Eager to please and blinded by Adam’s undeniable coolness, Ian basically does what is asked without question. We’ll talk more about him soon.
When Eve comes to visit Adam they spend their evenings draped in silk sheets, caressing each other’s skin, giving themselves up to experimental music and getting high on blood. For that is what blood is to them, it’s both food and drug.
From the outset it’s abundantly clear that despite this film being about vampires, it’s nowhere even close to being a horror. Anyone who is already familiar with Jarmusch’s work probably could’ve guessed that anyway. The pace of the movie is a reflection of the characters lives. Much like lots of his previous work, this is a slow-burner that chooses to focus on the romanticism of art, music, literature and love. Instead of assuming the traditional portrayal of vampires as monsters, Jarmusch elects to give their characters more gravitas, more eloquence. They’re tortured souls now who are merely surviving through a new generation of zombies (that’s what they call humans).
The film changes pace once Eve’s estranged “little sister” Ava arrives, uninvited. The notion of her was hinted to earlier when both Marlowe and Adam mention to Eve that they had dreams about her. She’s like a younger, smaller more petulant version of Eve and it’s clear that Adam has no love for her, especially since the “incident” in Paris. This is never explained but we can guess. After a night out and plentiful drinking, the group retire to Adam’s apartment. Remember Ian? Yeah he has joined them and has taken a shine to Ava. Unfortunately she has also got her eyes on him too and one thing leads to another…
After Adam throws her back on the street, he and Eve decide to go back to Tangier were their worst fears are realised. Marlowe has been poisoned and so their only safe method of sustenance has been compromised. Having spent centuries attempting to adhere to a certain modern day, moral code they are forced to return to the belittling, decadent monsters that so many judge them to be.
If you like your movies to be plot-heavy then you might struggle with this one. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that this is an art film but it definitely lends itself towards those ideals. Very little happens in the first 40 minutes but it’s hard not to enjoy Hiddleston and Swinton melting off the sofa like a Salvador Dali painting. They really are that cool. The set design is amazing. Adam’s lavish apartment is littered with vintage guitars, retro musical equipment, vinyl records and antique furnishings. There’s a hypnotic tinge to everything. Velvet reds and grimy greens. I love Jarmusch’s subtle play with vampire lore. Eve initially wears gloves because she has a hypersensitive touch which enables her to pinpoint a specific age to any object and the idea that although immortal, vampires are not immune from poisoning (aka drinking dirty blood). Jarmusch’s obsession with music is hard to escape from. There’s a real Velvet Underground thing happening throughout the entire film.
Only Lovers Left Alive gives hope that modern vampire films don’t need to be conventional. Pigeon holes are for losers. Thank god the Twilight franchise didn’t do too much damage eh?
Gavin Logan – Follow me on Twitter