Director and writer Jim Jarmusch, shoots the opening from above in a circular motion, seemingly to mirror the motion of the record and perhaps hinting at that never-ending notion of immortality. As the music plays and the screen spins, we see our three vampires each drink a glass of blood and it is clear by the end of the scene that this is no regular run of the mill vampire love story and that we are in for one wild ride.
For those who are worried that this is yet another starlight twinkling vampire film, you need not. The fact that our two lovers are vampires is in many ways immaterial to the story, though Jarmusch does play with the traditional vampire traits and uses them in some delightfully subtle ways. In many ways, this is a love story, which is simply enhanced by the passing of time.
For one blessed with immortality and therefore an unlimited future, Adam, a reclusive vampire with rock star tendencies seems to live solely in the past. He grudgingly accepts modern technology but lives in a world which celebrates what has come before. Adam has been around for a long time, knows what he likes and what works for him; things appear to have to prove themselves to be worthy of investment. Testament to this, when we meet Adam he is hunkered down in a dilapidated Detroit house where he creates music on classic old guitars and equipment, which he then uploads and releases anonymously into the world.
Eve, who lives in Tangiers where she helps tend to Marlowe, thankfully has a more positively disposed attitude toward humankind. During what has to be one of the most bizarre uses of Apple’s Face Time, she is clearly worried that Adam’s depression and isolation might spiral out of control, so travels to Detroit to be with him.
Both Hiddleston and Swinton deliver astonishing performances; so much so that when Adam and Eve are together on screen the film for want of a better phrase, comes alive. Their relationship is almost effortless, no doubt anchored in centuries of history; they seem so at ease with each other and their own direction. They are inseparable, but also understand the importance and need for individual space. Centuries spent side-by-side creates a wealth of memories, which Adam, true to form, delights to reminisce over. The pair take their time reminiscing while slowly sipping the best quality 0-negative blood on the market, which due to years of human neglect that has made the average human’s blood poisonous, now needs to be obtained in the same way one might score a little Friday night enhancement.
Adam and Eve both have a deep love of art and Only Lovers Left Alive seems at its core, to be a love letter to the creation of art. So much so that despite Adam’s clear disdain for humans (who he refers to as ‘the zombies’), in his own sulkily muso kind of way he actually celebrates and champions human art and culture, from its creation, evolution and most importantly ensuring its survival. It is on this last point that the film and Adam, in particular, stay focused.
When you are immortal it is natural to have an increased desire for the world in which you will forever be enslaved to be as conducive as possible. Therefore we learn the lengths the trio has gone to over the years to ensure that quality art ‘gets out there’ by any means necessary. Authorship is not important; the art, its impact and place in history are all the matters. Jarmusch handles this superbly well, with tight exchanges between the characters, which blend just the right amount of arrogance with historical fact. You need to be alert to catch all the references, but when you do you may never read history in the same way again.
Midway through the film, the pair’s utopian existence is shattered by the arrival of Eve’s sister, the gloriously impetuous Ava (Mia Wasikowska), who bursts into their lives in a whirlwind of teenage hormones and emotions, so bringing some of the films finest moments. Watching Adam and Eve forced into an almost parental role is darkly humorous, none more so than when Ava crowbars the pair out of the house and into a nightclub where they meet up with Ian (Anton Yelchin), a local facilitator for Adam’s music and reclusive rock star life style.
Throughout the film, Jarmusch’s pacing is luxuriously slow, every shot seems to lovingly linger, taking far more time to complete than it should, with some of the lighting and framing being simply exquisite. You constantly feel that you are either walking side by side with the lovers, or sitting next to them on the couch. In many ways watching the film is like strolling through an art gallery, pausing to gaze at each exhibit and then sitting down to make sure you didn’t miss anything. This approach seems to mirror how Adam and Eve approach their daily lives; time is essentially irrelevant for them, so frankly why rush.
This will be a divisive device, which some will find frustrating, but your reaction to this film will ultimately depend on how much you enjoy Adam and Eve’s company. There is some plot, but to quote Barry Norman, ‘not a lot’, but what there is, is just enough to provide some narrative direction. If you are content to sit down, grab a drink and go with the flow, then you will be richly rewarded with a gothic tale of love through the ages, which will linger long after the credits role. However, if you are of an impatient imposition, then there is a good chance this may not end well.
Review by Will Malone
- Director – Jim Jarmusch
- Starring – Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt
- Writer – Jim Jarmusch
- Year – 2014
- Running Time – 123 mins
If you liked Only Lovers Left Alive, then try Under the Skin.