Ever since Twilight, we’ve been spoiled for choice with vampire films. It feels like there was a collective urge amongst filmmakers to wipe the memories of those films from our minds and remind us what makes vampire films so good. We’ve had great comedies like What We Do In The Shadows and more experimental fare like A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. The peak of these films though is Jim Jarmusch’s take on vampire films with Only Lovers Left Alive.
The plot focuses on a vampire husband and wife, Adam, an incredibly successful musician living in isolation in Detroit, and Eve, a more free spirited individual living in Tangier. After a call they share, Eve decides to visit Adam but their time together is interrupted by the arrival of Eve’s sister Ava. What I love about the plot, and the element that needs to work best, is the romance between Adam and Eve, mainly the perfect order that they represent. The personalities of the two are so opposed to each other that they are perfect for each other, the best representation that I can think of for the yin-yang dynamic in a relationship. This nature of the two being perfect for each other is also seen through conversations about physics that the two have, mainly in relation to the idea that two atoms separated from each other will always feel any changes that the other feels and this gives a great idea into the cosmic link that Adam and Eve have with each other. This also leads into the role of chaos, represented by Ava, as all the damage that is done to Adam and Eve, all the harm that befalls their lives, only really happens as a result of Ava. I also love the way the film presents the human world, humanity being described as zombies, only understanding the harm we’re doing when it’s too late, and ignoring the great advances that are being done in science to make the world better because of our distrust of science, best seen through Adam’s disdain for the electricity grid, using ideas developed by Tesla to generate the power. This damage done by humans also creates a very interesting idea for traditional vampire lore here: why don’t Adam and Eve just attack humans, why do they have to go to hospitals for their blood. The answer is, if they attack humans, they risk getting blood poisoning and dying, as is what happens at the end of the film to Marlowe, they only attack humans directly when they have no other choice and the chaos Ava represents rears its head again as she does attack humans and guzzles down the high quality blood Adam and Eve drink. In fact, the whole world of vampires the world creates is very intriguing, we hear about different vampires, things Ava did in the past to isolate herself and so on and because we know so little, it creates a great air of mystery that adds to the world.
The performances meanwhile are excellent. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are incredible as Adam and Eve. Hiddleston shows the world weariness of Adam and his suicidal tendencies brilliantly. He’s so sick of seeing other people abuse the planet and ignore greatness that he’s just become fed up of life, with this depression working its way into his music. Swinton meanwhile fills Eve with so much life and spirit, she cares for everything and uses her time as a vampire to fulfil her understanding of the world and its different cultures (seen with all the books she reads). These personalities clash and fit together so perfectly (even going into the costume design) that they both add to each other and their performances would be weaker without the other and this is all aided by the brilliant chemistry that Hiddleston and Swinton have with each other. Mia Wasikowska meanwhile is great as Ava, brilliantly representing the chaos of the film. When you first hear about Ava you get images of a really imposing figure but when we see her, we see that she’s more like a petulant young girl. She’s selfish, wild and inconsiderate, a severe contrast to the order we see with Adam and Eve and Wasikowska plays this brilliantly, creating a lot of dark comedy in the film. Anton Yelchin and John Hurt are a lot of fun to watch, with Hurt in particular adding to the overall world of the film as Christopher Marlowe. If there’s one complaint I have with the cast it’s that, even though he is fun to watch, Jeffrey Wright was completely wasted in the film, being in it for less than five minutes.
The technical side of the film is excellent as well, as is to be expected from Jim Jarmusch. The production design is excellent, particularly with Adam’s house, the guitars littering everywhere and the patchwork nature of the electrical systems in his house add to the weary environment, mainly Adam surrounding himself with relics instead of embracing the now. This is aided by the location work in the film, mainly the use of Detroit, the dilapidated nature of Detroit, all the abandoned, crumbling buildings fitting the weary nature of Adam, reflecting his attitude to life as a whole. The music as well is excellent, again as to be expected from a Jarmusch film. At the start of the film, the music is really dark and depressing, reflecting the attitude of Adam to life, with it all sounding like funeral music (to quote the film), which adds to the suicidal tendencies of Adam. As the film goes on, the music gets a bit lighter, helping to show the good music can do to help people, especially a performance Adam sees in Tangier at the end of the film. If any part of the technicals of the film was changed then the film wouldn’t have the power it has.
Overall, Only Lovers Left Alive is a high point for vampire films. As a romance, it works incredibly well because of how good Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are and this adds to the overall experience of the film which has an incredibly rich world and brilliant thematic depth. This film elevates the whole vampire genre out of the rut it was in from the Twilight films, looking those films square in the eye and telling them how to do a vampire romance film right.
My Rating: 5/5