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Only Lovers Left Alive: A Movie Review

Updated on December 13, 2016
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The first step is to know what you do not know. The second step is to ask the right questions. I reserve the right to lean on my ignorance.

Only Lovers Left Alive: Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston
Only Lovers Left Alive: Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston | Source

The film is Only Lovers Left Alive (2014), written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. Its an "indie" film, which means that its construction is not meant to be impactful in a sensationalistic way that is thought to make for "Hollywood Blockbusters." That is to say, it does not offer us what studio heads think "the public" wants, according to the media that follows Hollywood, anyway.

The two lead roles are filled by Tilda Swinton, "Eve," and Tom Hiddleston, "Adam." The easiest way to re-familiarize you with the actor Tom Hiddleston, is to remind you that he plays "Loki" in the Thor movies.

I want to start by saying that I love everything about this movie. Everything.

The first thing to say about the film is that it is about vampires. The second thing to say is that, apparently, Mr. Jarmusch did not feel the need to sensationalize the blood-suckers, if you can believe that. You will be sorely disappointed if you come to this movie expecting "Underworld," or anything like that. As I said, vampires are in no way sensationalized in this film.

Jarmusch has reimagined vampires. In his world they are not evil; they are not heroes necessarily (like "Angel"---the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff); they are not action adventurer martial artists (a la "Blade"); and they are not locked in a life and death struggle with anybody in particular, least of all werewolves ('Lycans,' as they are called in the world of "Underworld").

Yes, they drink human blood, of course. But they are not so "fifteenth-century," as to actually bite people on the neck for it anymore. They cultivate connections inside the medical community to procure "the good stuff": contamination-free O-negative.

I. The Title

I love the title of this movie. Its sounds cool to my ear and it somehow fits the story. I think I grasp the tie-in, but then again, I'm not just quite sure. I think I have it, then it eludes me: something to do with the very last scene of the film...

II. The Theme Music

I love the theme music. It is dark and brooding and very simple, with few notes. Having experienced it, I cannot imagine the film without it; and I cannot imagine the music without the film.

III. The Casting

Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are perfect together. I think the two actors must think well of each other in real life. They obviously work well together, which allows them to really sell the romance, the eternal love that exists between "Adam" and "Eve." Of course, all of that is to say that they have a wonderful chemistry on screen together.

But not only are those two roles perfectly cast, as far as I'm concerned. Every other role is perfectly cast as well. By "perfectly cast," I simply mean that actors fill the roles, who are really able to "sell it," and thus, not only do not serve as distractions but tell the story, that Mr. Jarmusch is trying to get across, well.

For example, the role of Eve's "sister," "Ava" (it is made clear that they are not blood sisters; are they merely sisters in vampirism?) is played by a young actress called Mia Wasikowska. The role is put together in such a way---which Ms. Wasikowska more than ably delivers on---that highlights the contrasting and complimentary aspects of the personalities and life outlooks of Adam and Eve.

That is to say, that Adam's somewhat "grumpy old man" persona really comes to the fore when he interacts with Ava. Eve's somewhat warm, forbearing, maternally nurturing persona really comes to the fore when she interacts with Ava.

Speaking of Adam and Eve's contrasting and complimentary personas: there is a wonderful scene which highlights this.

As I said, Adam's got the "grumpy old man" thing down pat. Not only that but he grows weary of the humanity he observes; he wishes they were better, that they would have made more humanitarian progress over so many centuries, perhaps when he was first "turned."

In any event, he toys with the idea of suicide; by the way, I just have to mention that one never gets the idea that he is actually serious about taking his own eternal life with a special wooden bullet. This character, Adam, wouldn't know what to do if he wasn't filled with angst.

Anyway, Eve confronts him about what she calls his "self-absorption"; and she tells him what a "waste of living" it is. It is time better spent, she says, in appreciating nature; cultivating friendship and kindness; "surviving things," "and dancing."

Eve gets up and puts on an African-American soul record from the 1960s and they start dancing together around the living room.

Now, when Adam is by himself, without Eve, he can really be a sour pus. And yet I never once found myself thinking: What is Eve doing with this guy? They work together and need each other. They just do.


The character of Marlowe (another vampire, of course) is played by John Hurt, who is also perfectly cast. But it is through this wise old Marlowe, that we begin to grasp the fundamental way Jim Jarmusch is trying to recast the vampire lore. That is to say, that Marlowe seems to be a literary prodigy, who, you might say, "ghost-wrote" many of the classic works by the well known authors, like Shakespeare and such like.

In Jim Jarmusch's world, vampire play not the predators of humanity, but the Promethean role of the creative catalyst of humanity. This is what Adam's brooding is related to. He, himself, acts as one of these eternal "Prometheans," who takes a paternal interest in humans; and like any disapproving father, Adam is very, very, very, very, very disappointed in humankind. "They even managed to 'contaminate' their own blood," he moans.

Now, in a sense, Adam and Marlowe are "kindred spirits," if you will. But the old man is not nearly so brooding as Adam.

Again, we learn something about the character of Eve, as she interacts with this Marlowe chap. Basically, she does not take things nearly as seriously as either Adam or Marlowe. In fact, she wishes Marlowe would have a bit of fun with his role of literary Promethean; Wouldn't it be fun to cause a minor literary scandal? she asks

But old man Marlowe says heavily that he thinks the world is already quite embroiled enough in chaos. With tongue firmly in cheek, Eve, quite rightly, rebukes him as a "spoil sport."

IV. Erotic Intellectualism

This is how I would characterize the heart of Adam and Eve's relationship: erotic intellectualism. The thing to understand about their relationship is that their sexiness with each other starts with an intellectual meeting of their minds.

Adam seems to be a scientist/electrical engineer of some kind, as well as an accomplished musician, who seems to have played the role of musical Promethean down through the centuries.

Eve's fields are literature and astronomy. I'm not sure if she ever worked as a professional in those categories, or if she was just a gifted amateur, as it were.

They casually discuss quantum theory, which seems to almost serve as a kind of "foreplay" with them. All I can say is that as a viewer, I was drawn in.

Now, their discussions have an erotic character, but one never feels like a voyeur either in listening in. Class and elegance pervades their relationship. Again, you have to understand that Jim Jarmusch does not do the usual things with vampires that we are used to.

Adam and Eve do not embrace each other with the wild passion of shared vampiric, predatory bloodlust. For them, sex starts---and is largely conducted---between the ears, as it were.

It is, in some ways, a relaxing (if 'relaxing' is the world) movie to watch. As I said, Mr. Jarmusch does not see the need to sensationalize vampires here. But don't worry, there is a sufficiently dramatic payoff for you.

Thank you for reading!


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