Title: Only Lovers Left Alive
Written By: Jim Jarmusch
Publication Info: Recorded Picture Company (RPC) 2013
Only Lovers Left Alive is an independent movie that stars Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as vampires. I do not understand why the phrase “Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddelston as vampires” has not resulted in all of us watching this movie all day and all night, on an endless loop of emo coolness.
This movie was released in December 2013 in Europe and in April 2014 in the US. But it’s only playing in limited release. At the end of April, my local theater put up a “Coming Soon” poster and I have been calling said theater every week since then to find out when the movie is playing. At the beginning of every week they said, “Yes, it’s opening on Friday” and at the end of each week they said, “Oh sorry, not this week after all, maybe next week”. Eventually I became convinced that I now had a reputation as the Crazy Tom Hiddleston Woman and they were just messing with me. When it did open, it opened on the same night that I was leaving town, so I had to wait another week, which means that I waited almost exactly 19 months to see the damn movie, not that I’m counting.
But the time came at last for me to see Only Lovers Left Alive. By this time, I was afraid no movie could possibly live up to all that anticipation, but it did. It’s a wonderfully weird, trippy, moody movie in which not much happens but everything is very beautifully filmed and there’s an incredible atmosphere of melancholy, joy, and, for lack of a better word, cool. In so many vampire stories, there’s no exploration of what it means to have lived for a long time. Vampires may express nostalgia for the past, but they usually match the emotional age of the humans around them, more or less. This movie explores what it would really mean to live for hundreds of years. Adam periodically gets emotionally stuck in deep depression and ennui. He loves technology but only if it’s old and if he can tinker with it, and he hates the modern world, referring to humans as “zombies”. He’s a muscian who struggles with the need to get his work out into the world and a contradictory need, both logistical and emotional, to keep his exisitence a secret.
Eve, who lives in Tangiers, caresses her iPhone and her old books with equal joy – she finds strength in friendships and in an inexhaustible capacity to appreciate the world around her. She’s not a manic pixie dream girl – she’s wise and mature and messed up in her own way. In a genre that has a fetish for the young, it’s thrilling to see Adam and Eve (yeah, I hate their names, too) are essentially middle-aged, and they look both timeless and weathered – not an easy trick to accomplish. Swinton can sit at a restaurant table in ordinary clothing and no makeup and look more otherworldy than any CGI elf. Most of this movie consists of Hiddleston and Swinton walking around looking ethereal and gorgeous while trippy music plays. I’m fine with that but your mileage may vary.
The movie also explores what it would mean to be with someone romantically for hundreds of years. Really, it’s a portrait of a marriage. There’s never any doubt that Adam and Eve are “together”. Although they live separately, they are very much an actively married couple, one that stays connected despite distance. They’ve been together for so long that they can give each other space without feeling threatened, but even when they live separately their bond is mutually affectionate, erotic, supportive, and bullshit free. The movie is filled with gorgeous, iconic images of Swinton and Hiddleston together, and they are gorgeous not just because of the composition of the shots, the costuming and setting, and of course the actors, but because in these shots Swinton and Hiddleston show an utter ease with each other. They have realistic fights that aren’t ugly because there’s a deep foundation of love and trust. They touch each other with the joyful comfort of people rejoining with a long-absent limb.
There’s not a ton of plot. Adam and Eve have both worked out arrangements by which they can get blood that they purchase – no humans harmed. This means they don’t have to worry as much about tainted blood (they can be affected by disease and drugs and other toxins in the blood they drink). It also means that they aren’t being hunted for murder all the time. The catch is that their lives revolve around fragile arrangements, and when Eve’s whacky sister, Ava, shows up these arrangements are disrupted.
Adam, played by Tom Hiddleston, is sort of a Goth/emo/hipster guy – he’s a musician who is also completely reclusive and only leaves his house to obtain blood (from a hospital) and drive around a desolate Detroit. He’s like Loki on Quaaludes. I planned to see this movie by myself, but once Adam and his Goth hair started moaning about how humans are like zombies and they are so terrible because they destroy everything and they failed to appreciate Nikolas Tesla, my College Freshman Self came bursting through the door, ran down the aisle, sat next to my current, Middle Aged Self, and said, “OMG, that is SO DEEP”.
Adam lives in Detroit and Eve in Tangiers, and College Age Self wants to be just like both of them because they are SO COOL. They are totally beyond the mundane trap of suburban life. Yes, yes, Eve, you are right, we should just dance all the time! And never wash our glasses or have jobs because we are above that and we live through art! We sip our blood through crystal glasses and we buy our antiques with huge wads of cash and we listen to records of vinyl, because we are not corporate tools! Yeah!
Meanwhile current Middle Aged Self, who does, in fact, live in the suburbs, was wondering if maybe Adam might want to crumble some anti-depressants into the blood he drinks. You’d think they would work, if you could find an effective means of administering them. But maybe not – how dead is undead, anyway? These are the kinds of things I think about now. And why don’t any of the vampires brush their hair? They obviously care about appearance. Adam may claim not to but it takes effort to find that many all-black outfits, and Eve and Ava are very stylish, so what’s with their hair? Also why are they all so messy? College Age Self is wondering how to get to Tangiers and Middle Age Self is feeling a deep need to tidy something and maybe run the vacuum around.
It should probably go without saying that Swinton and Hiddleston are wonderful. How I adored the courtly way Adam says, “Do feel free to piss in the garden”. Tilda Swinton extracts vast amounts of meaning and emotional resonance by tilting her head or raising an eyebrow. The funnest part of the movie for me was watching this old married couple communicate non-verbally, especially when Eve’s bratty sister is around. Apparently marriage is marriage regardless of whether you subsist on blood or leftover pizza (it’s been a busy week at my place).
By the way, for the most part, this movie is not scary, but when it goes for the creep factor, it delivers. Neither Middle Aged Self nor College Age Self enjoyed walking back to the car after the movie was over. When Tilda Swinton gets serious, she does not fuck around, you guys. I’m never going to be able to hear the phrase “Excusez-moi” again without peeing my pants. The movie ends right about the time that I thought it would be beginning, thus indicating that not only was I so wrapped up in the film that I lost all track of time, but also that the movie is narratively linear yet odd.
I don’t think this movie is for everyone, but here’s who I’d recommend it to:
1. People who want to see a vampire story told in a very different, fresh way and don’t mind a slow, philosophical pace and a lack of jump scares and gore.
2. People with an interest in music and in cinematography. Seriously, this movie is utterly gorgeous.
3. Fans of Tom Hiddleston.
4. Fans of Tilda Swinton.
5. Fans of “art” movies –Middle Age Self isn’t sure how to define that but College Age Self is sure you know what I mean. Think slow pace, deep thoughts, great technical filmmaking, and small but intense cast.
I can picture intelligent, sensitive people seeing this movie and going, “What the heck was that?” But personally, I felt it was worth the nineteen month long wait to watch Hiddleston and Swinton waft around scenic backdrops with sunglasses on. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go follow the advice of Eve, my hero, and appreciate nature, and be kind and nurturing, and cultivate friendships, and dance. And also, I have to tidy a little and run the vacuum, because that’s just how I roll.