Review: Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)

Only Lovers Left Alive
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, et al.
Genre: Drama / Romance / Horror
Released: February 21 2014 (UK) April 11 2014 (USA)
by Sony Pictures Classics
Running time: 123 mins (2 hr, 3 mins)
Cert: 15 (BBFC) R (MPAA)
Rating: ★★★★

IMDb | View Trailer

Set against the romantic desolation of Detroit and Tangiers, an underground musician, deeply depressed by the direction of human activities, reunites with his resilient and enigmatic lover. Their love story has already endured several centuries at least, but their debauched idyll is soon disrupted by her wild and uncontrollable younger sister. Can these wise but fragile outsiders continue to survive as the modern world collapses around them?

I have a habit of kind of stalking films for quite some time before they’re released. Sometimes I realise that they won’t be released in my town and settle for a DVD release, but I just couldn’t do that with Only Lovers Left Alive. I’d been stalking the release dates and blacklisting gifsets and screencaps on Tumblr because I was so determined to see it. So much that my friends and I went to the next town over just the see the film. When you’ve got five amazing actors in a single film by an acclaimed director, that calls for some pretty high expectations, doesn’t it? And those expectations really weren’t dashed.

Only Lovers Left Alive tells of married vampire couple Adam (played by Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (played by Tilda Swinton), who have come to live in two different parts of the world despite still having a strong relationship. Eve lives in Tangiers, Morocco, where she regularly has their friend Christopher Marlowe (played by John Hurt) for comfort and to bring her blood. And yes, that Christopher Marlowe. Adam, on the other hand, lives in an abandoned house in Detroit, Michigan, where he produces music anonymously and stays as far away from humans, or zombies as he refers to them, as possible. I really liked the film’s story because it showed vampires in a way that I hadn’t really seen before. In most vampire lore that I’ve seen, they try to blend in with society as much as they can without arousing suspicion. Here, Adam and Eve don’t really know anybody and barely even exist, as shown when Eve books tickets under the names of Stephen Dedalus and Daisy Buchanan (that made me and my friend laugh). Eve is more likely to go out at night so that she can meet Kit (Christopher Marlowe) in public, while Adam almost never goes out as his friend Ian (played by Anton Yelchin) brings him things like guitars, and he often goes to the nearest hospital to get his regular supply of blood from a doctor there who manages to keep his suspicions at bay. There are other parts of the traditional vampire lore that have been twisted around a bit too. For example, instead of sleeping in coffins or boxes of homeland soil, they all just go to bed like normal people. Going back to Adam and Eves pseudonyms, this film has quite a few literary references scattered about, with the biggest one being Kit. For a long, long time there has been a theory that Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare were the same person. In the film, Marlowe didn’t die in a bar fight but is a vampire and did actually write Shakespeare’s plays for him (Adam wrote music for classical composers too), which made me laugh a couple of times when it was mentioned. I honestly didn’t expect this film to be very funny, but it’s all in knowing things and also in delivery. My one issue that I had with the film is that it just ends. Like that. I wasn’t expecting the final shot to be the end of the film and I had wanted to see what would have happened next.

I don’t think I can say enough about how amazing the cast of Only Lovers Left Alive is. Jarmusch definitely picked the cream of the crop here. We all already know how awesome of an actor Tom Hiddleston is (and if you don’t get it, don’t worry. I never used to get it either, but you will be converted soon. Trust me) and I loved how well he and Tilda Swinton (who is also really awesome) worked together and the chemistry that their characters had. I didn’t know that Adam and Eve were married until it was actually said in the film, but they have one of those relationships where even though they’ve been together for such a long time, it’s as if they got together just last week and those are the best kind of relationships, in my opinion. Picking a character that I liked the most out of the main cast is hard task because I liked pretty much all of them. Adam does initially come off as your typical brooding vampire, but he’s more than that because he’s so disillusioned by the human race to the point of just not coming into contact with them. And then there’s the sass. He has so much sass that I just couldn’t handle it at times. Eve, on the other hand, seems like his polar opposite and kind of acts like a light of some sorts. No matter how bad things get for Adam, Eve will still be there. I mean, she’s got enough money to just hop on a plane to Detroit whenever she likes. Eve is more of a hopeful person than Adam is, as if she still has yet to be disillusioned, so when she becomes truly emotional, it’s pretty heart-breaking to see. Including this film, I’ve now only seen three of Tilda Swinton’s films (the other two being Narnia films) and I’ll definitely be checking out more of her stuff.

As this isn’t a film with a particularly huge budget, there isn’t much in the way of special effects. However, the film has been beautifully crafted in the way that it’s been shot. The cinematography of Only Lovers Left Alive is possibly the best that I’ve seen in quite some time now and there were very few times that I felt like I needed to take my eyes off the screen due to camera movement (sometimes the way the camera moves makes me feel nauseous). The film isn’t very brightly lit and for some reason reminded me of how a house looks when it’s night and only a couple of lamps are on, but there are some scenes in the film that are actually dark and you can’t see much at all. One thing that stuck out to me and I still can’t put my finger on what it means is the colours that Adam and Eve mainly dress in, with Adam wearing black and Eve wearing white. I’m still trying to think of what it could represent, because vampires aren’t really the purest of creatures; they’re more like the eternally damned. It’ll come to me sooner or later.

Music definitely plays an important part in Only Lovers Left Alive, which is kind of two big duhs because one of the main characters is a musician and also, from what I’ve heard, Jim Jarmusch uses a lot of music in his work. In almost every scene that doesn’t have dialogue, there’s music, which I didn’t really mind because it wasn’t used in an unnecessary way and definitely did contribute to the scenes where music can be heard, whether it’s a particularly emotional one or even a montage of sorts. Another thing that I liked about the film’s music is that even though it is a predominantly rock-like score, there is a bit of a mix of genres, especially when it comes to records and music that we can see being played on screen.

The approximately forty minute journey that it took me to get to the cinema to see Only Lovers Left Alive was definitely worth it. The film is beautifully shot, with a great soundtrack, and probably the best cast that I have seen in quite some time now. If you’re able to find a cinema that will be screening this film (I had to go to the next town over to see it at the independent cinema there), I would definitely recommend that you get yourself a ticket. And even if vampires aren’t your thing, hey it’s Tom Hiddleston being an awesome sassy shirtless vampire. I’m kidding; there are more reasons to see a film than just one actor.

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