Only Lovers Left Alive

Independent avant-garde film maker Jim Jarmusch has created an unusually intoxicating film experience that’s a philosophical meditation and a vampire family drama which plays at times like a dramatic version of The Adams Family and also like a moody art film. 

An 18th century immortal vampire couple, Adam and Eve, are trying to live a reclusive, private and somewhat stable life while working on and enjoying their artistic passions in our contemporary world. 

A kind of In the Mood for Love with Vampires, this is a contemplative and dreamy film about how the living past has disappeared into obscurity and mystery. Like Wong Kar wai’s film In the Mood for Love (2000), Only Lovers is a dark mood piece about nocturnal drifters passing through empty abandoned places that were once great and beautiful.

Adam is a musician from the 18th century who, never growing old, has evolved along with the times and now collects vintage guitars and lives in a boarded up old house in an abandoned part of Detroit, clandestinely influencing the underground music scene. 

The movie shows us a vampire’s eye view of the world. We never see daylight and Adam and Eve are always on the prowl for fresh blood supplies. They have loads of cash and are able to find the blood they need to sustain their existence by secretly purchasing donated blood from hospitals and doctors.

There is a circular theme of eternal life and life cycles. Having acquired ancient knowledge over the hundreds of years that they’ve lived, they are very much attached to the past and still revere the ancient traditions and technologies, tinkering and mixing them with newer gadgets to create strange but functional hybrids to serve their own purposes.

Eve is a reader and lover of poetry and philosophy living in an apartment in Tangiers, Morocco, which is where English Elizabethan era playwright and dramatist Christopher Marlow also lives. The movie uses the conceit that it was Marlowe who was the real talent behind the famous plays credited to William Shakespeare. 

When Eve senses Adam’s suicidal depression, she quickly books a flight to Detroit to be with him, and their age old love and respect for each other is immediately apparent. Going out for evening drives, they reminiscing about the past and the human ‘zombies’ they once knew.

The lovers have their own unique counter culture style and the interesting thing is that we get to see our world through the eyes of people who have lived in it longer than anyone alive today. People who have experienced human history as no one else could and still retain some of its ancient traditions and knowledge that has been lost to us. 

It begs the question: What would our ancestors, were they still alive, make of this world we are now living in that they helped to create? It’s an interesting question that this movie touches on.

Visually, the film is artfully and poetically realized through authentic eerie location photography in the narrow nighttime alley ways of Tangiers and the vast empty urban streets and abandoned parking lots of Detroit. The film feels so random and truthful that one never doubts the reality of the places and situations.

Seven years in the making, this rare film is one of the most satisfying I’ve ever seen and kept me totally immersed in its strange reality. Tilda Swinton as Eve and Tom Hiddleston as Adam are perfectly cast and are mesmerizing as the long lived night dwellers obsessed with art, music and love.

Only Lovers Left Alive is sure to become a cult favorite with fans of the vampire genre and of Jarmusch’s genre bending films.



jacquie said...

This is a film I probably wouldn't go out of my way to see. But your review is so great that I think I'll try to find it. Interesting that they chose vampires to examine what truly binds people...why they fight for each other, what creates an endless love. Wonderful and compelling review

Paul Graham said...

Hi John, no matter how good the remainder of the premise I will take a pass on a film that uses vampires as the vehicle for expressing it

Anonymous said...

It has always, well, over the last decade, amazed me how many vampire movies can be made. I guess it has something to do with the "what if" question that such an existence provokes. Kind of like time travel. What If we lived forever...would that be cool or devastating.

Sarah Pittard said...

I would never have watched it but after your review I will for sure. Thanks

Meredith Wouters said...

Wow, I can really imagine Swinson and Hiddleston in those roles. Thanks for sharing this, I probably never would have heard of it otherwise.