Review: "Only Lovers Left Alive" Eats Modern Vampire Flicks for Breakfast

Jo Wylie ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor

Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive. Photo Credit: Gordon A. Timpen/Sony Pictures Classics.
Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive. Photo Credit: Gordon A. Timpen/Sony Pictures Classics.
If you were to describe Only Lovers Left Alive to a stranger, you might label it a “vampire movie.” This would be your first mistake—though Jim Jarmusch‘s protagonists have a taste for blood and show off the occasional flash of sharp canines, they would eat Edward Cullen for breakfast (if they would even stoop to such a level). In Jarmusch’s world, it has become terribly old-fashioned to drink blood from the source—with all the trash humans have in their systems, vampires are more likely to suffer from “blood poisoning” than to have a good meal.
These little digs at humanity, the devolvement of society, and vampire tropes are all delivered in Jarmusch’s trademark deadpan style by the excellently cast Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston. With all of this swathed in a stylistic, slow-paced and light-plot narrative, Jarmusch presents us with a languorous, sanguine comedy.
Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska and Anton Yelcin in Only Lovers Left Alive. Photo Credit: Gordon A. Timpen/Sony Pictures Classics.
Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska and Anton Yelcin in Only Lovers Left Alive. Photo Credit: Gordon A. Timpen/Sony Pictures Classics.
Rife with references and historical name-dropping, Only Lovers might fly over the heads of some people, but the movie doesn’t seem to care about ostracizing its audience. It’s fully aware that its watchers are probably going to be humans, but doesn’t hold back from insulting the whole lot. Hiddleston’s wraithlike Adam calls the species “zombies” and waxes lyrical about how very much they suck (no pun intended). In fact, with barely a plot until the second half of the movie, Only Lovers could easily suffer from a lack of interest and tone that doesn’t really do anything. Luckily, this couldn’t be farther from the truth; it keeps the audience invested with commanding characters, endless funny references, and stony, blink-and-you-miss-them jokes.
Hiddleston and Swinton are perfectly cast as ancient, haunted beings stuck halfway between monsters and deities. Adam is compared to romantic poets and reclusive rock stars, a modern Byron who hates humanity; Eve is a softer yet commanding soul who consumes books and poetry as if her un-life depends on it. Together they create a yin-and-yang pair (suitably dressed in black and white) in love with nature, disdainful of humanity, and outside of time. Although it’s never explicitly stated that they’re the Adam and Eve, they definitely seem to have experienced the full spectrum so far, and have at least a tangential awareness of the future, sometimes forgetting exactly when the “present” is.
Mia Wasikowska and Anton Yelcin in Only Lovers Left Alive. Photo Credit: Gordon A. Timpen/Sony Pictures Classics.
Mia Wasikowska and Anton Yelcin in Only Lovers Left Alive. Photo Credit: Gordon A. Timpen/Sony Pictures Classics.
The closest the film comes to a plot and a villain is Eva, Eve’s little sister (sadly, not named Lilith, surely a missed opportunity). Eva is also a vampire, evidently not as old as the two lovers, who lives more completely amongst the “zombies,” or humans. Eva’s immersion in the LA music scene directly contrasts the absent, disconnected existences Adam and Eve choose, in the decrepit husk of industrial Detroit wasteland. Eva’s arrival shakes up the plot—she “turns over the hourglass,” starting another of the many cycles of life Adam and Eve have lived through. She drags the reclusive couple out into society, seduces Adam’s only human friend, and generally causes a ruckus in the previously torpid plot around Adam and Eve.
This sequence is particularly hilarious—a collection of vignettes in the life of a couple with an unwanted guest could be plot points pulled from a romantic comedy. Eva drinks their stash, guilts Adam into going out when he doesn’t want to, and uses him to get what she wants. The extreme mundanity of the events becomes uproarious when played out by a collection of immortal, predatory beings.
Only Lovers Left Alive is a movie that almost has more tone than plot, yet it connects to its audiences in a delightfully enjoyable way. Tom and Tilda’s slim, airy acting; the subtle skill with which the humor is managed; and the unhurried pacing all come together to create a cohesive, enjoyable, and impactful movie about art, love, and humanity.
Overall Grade: A-

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