MRR Review: "Only Lovers Left Alive"

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Rating: R
Length: 123 minutes
Release Date: April 11, 2014
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Genre: Romance / Horror / Drama

In director Jim Jarmusch's vampire feature, "Only Lovers Left Alive," viewers do not find the over-sexualized vampires trying to resist their urges that have dominated the genre since the introduction of "Twilight." Instead, Jarmusch's Adam, played by Tom Hiddleston, and Eve, played by Tilda Swinton, are 3,000 year old married soulmates who live thousands of miles apart. Adam lives in a large, derelict apartment on the outskirts of Detroit while Eve wanders the alleyways of Tangiers with fellow vampire Christopher Marlow, who is played by John Hurt and amusingly upset that Shakespeare continues to receive credit for his plays. When Adam's sadness over the zombie-like state of humanity threatens to overcome him and causes him to contemplate suicide, Eve comes to visit, and she uses her sunny disposition to bring him out of his depression.

Adam and Eve are reunited in Detroit after their soulmate psychic magnetism alerts Eve to trouble when Adam contemplates suicide. While Adam is dark and morose, Eve is all light and beauty. Adam sees beauty only in the past, but Eve takes comfort in the beauty that still exists in the world. The depth of their relationship is cemented for the audience as Adam clings to Eve like she is the only light in a dark room and the one thing standing between him and the dark monsters that he fears would consume him. Their contentment at being back together again is interrupted when Eve's sister, Ava, played by Mia Wasikowska, appears for a visit. Unlike Eve's calm, illuminating presence, Ava is the embodiment of the eternal wild child and puts strain on the relationship between Eve and Adam.

"Only Lovers Left Alive" sets itself apart from other films in the genre by avoiding the word "vampire" entirely. The audience knows what Adam and Eve are, but the characters are never so mundane as to directly refer to themselves as vampires. They surround themselves with pieces of the past, from vinyl records and vintage turntables to portraits of artists from other eras and meticulously maintained rare books. Adam even refuses to drink blood from humans for fear of contamination. Instead, he pays off a hospital worker who he calls Dr. Watson to provide him with the blood he needs to survive. Adam also views humans as zombies, victims of a technological disease that is destroying society and ruining the minds of mankind. To keep the character from becoming too pompous, audiences are introduced to Ian, played by Anton Yelchin. Ian is a human friend of Adam's who collects vintage guitars for him and runs his errands during the day. Though he never questions why Adam refuses to venture out in the daylight, audience members suspect that Ian knows that Adam is a vampire.

Rather than attempting some kind of co-existence with humans, Adam and Eve set themselves apart from humanity. These characters have created their own artistically charged world hidden inside the society of humanity where they hide themselves away until nightfall. Even Adam, for all of his rock star angst, refuses to release his music in any way but through underground channels. Throughout the film, he demonstrates a love for his guitars and his music but refuses to play a single note. Watching the characters throughout the film is almost like getting a glimpse into the everyday personal life of royalty. Ordinary people, or zombies, may not be able to fully understand what it is like for these creatures to exist, but for a brief moment, they can see what the world looks like through their eyes.

"Only Lovers Left Alive" is not a film that audiences should gravitate toward solely for the storyline. Plot-wise, little action takes place. The real story in this film is the atmosphere, the beauty and the two gorgeous, sensitive, artistic creatures that have watched the world build itself and breakdown over the centuries. Adam and Eve have a true passion for the past and the things that built human society before the dawn of the digital age. This passion, coupled with their enduring love for each other, creates a rich tapestry that is haunted on the edges by an addiction to blood. Combined, these elements create a beautiful, poignant picture that is more a commentary on the ruins of society than a film driven by plot points.

The magnetism of stars Hiddleston and Swinton make this film more accessible to audiences than some of Jarmusch's other works. The banter between characters, inside jokes and balance of light and dark between Eve and Adam all serve to keep audiences from getting bogged down in narrative commentary of the film. "Only Lovers Left Alive" provides audiences with a satisfying slow burn of a film that showcases the eloquence and talent of its filmmaker and cast.