on 24 February 2014
Jim Jarmusch doesn’t make that many films, and consequently those that come along are to be treasured. For me this is the best thing Jarmusch has done since the outstanding Ghost Dog (Way of the Samurai) some fourteen years since; Tom Hiddlestone and Tilda Swinton are perfectly cast as world-weary but resolute-in-their-love vampires, attempting to live in human society (he in Detroit, she in North Africa) without ripping-out necks or picking-off unwary victims. Instead, alongside John Hurt’s immortal Elizabethan playwright Kit Marlowe, they survive by bribing various hospital staff for packets of blood, and whiling away the hours either in paralyzing ennui or orgasmic haemoglobic satisfaction. When Swinton’s characters’ sister – the rebellious Ava, arrives on the scene however, the lovers’ idyll is brutally interrupted, and the pair have to face up to the reality that they will never simply be able to co-exist with the ‘zombies’ (their name for non-vampire types), but are forever doomed to live in the shadows.
Jarmusch’s trademark languor and listlessness is present in spades, but the film still works, thanks chiefly to the powerful central performances, that finds a triumvirate of world-class actors (ably supported by Anton Yelchin and Mia Wasikowska) at the very top of their game, and a director who is confident enough to eschew pyrotechnics and gratuitous gore in favour of seamlessly superior film-making.
on 7 March 2014
I'm not a fan of art house, or pretentious movies, but this could not be further from that. Tilda and Tom are a delight, the soundtrack is awesome and the story is beautiful. Life affirming, beautiful, sweet and hilarious (which no one seems to mention!) this is genuinely funny. Heart warming and loving, you can't help but walk out of the cinema smiling. I've seen it three times and would watch it over and over and over.
on 29 May 2014
I fully expected not to like this film, which from many media reviews sounded pretentious and self-aware. Well, it is self-aware - but I was pleasantly surprised to find that in this case, self-awareness is part of the film's quirky charm. It was also this reviewer's first Jarmusch film, although familiar with his work by reputation.
This is a film that will appeal most to those tickled by underground communities and subterranean lives, and to the die-hard vampire/Euro-Goth crowd - but the adult one. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play Adam and Eve, aged vampires who have been married for centuries. Unlike most other old married couples, the bloom of romance still clings to this rose - perhaps because the couple have been wise enough to live far apart: she in Tangier, he in an old row house in burned-out Detroit. Adam is a musician whose work has ranged from classical chamber music in the 19th century (some of which he allowed Franz Schubert to pass off as his own), and, in the 20th century, moving successfully into rock 'n' roll where Adam became an elusive musical legend rarely seen by the public.
As the film opens, Adam is going through a phase of existential angst and is considering sending a wooden bullet through his undead heart. Hiddleston's understated delivery just manages to save Adam from coming across as petulant rather than despondent. Eve, by contrast, is a serene, rather Zen sort of vampire: a student of life in all forms, interested in all that the cosmos contains, from botany to astronomy. Eve has a unique gift: the ability to tell the age of any object by running her hands over it, which is useful in assessing additions to Adam's huge collection of valuable old guitars and other string instruments. When Eve realizes how dispirited Adam is, she flies to Detroit to find out what's bothering him, and the film unfolds from there. Amusing cultural references include hints about the water shortage that climate change will bring about, Eve's closeness to Elizabethan writer, Christopher Marlowe (absently yet tenderly played by John Hurt) who also lives in Tangier, and is not only also a vampire but, as some have always suspected, the true author of Shakespeare's output. Additional environmental warnings appear framed in the lack of a healthy blood supply. Eve and Adam and Marlowe obtain theirs through hospital contacts - killing is a last resort. Jeffrey Wright puts in a brief but drily funny cameo as the pathologist who keeps Adam stocked with quality O Negative. The vampires all take their daily nourishment in delicate port glasses as they awaken at twilight, going into momentary orgasmic comas as they do so. Adam's contempt for humans, whom he refers to as "zombies" for poisoning not only their water and food, but their own blood, is profound.
Shortly after Eve arrives in Detroit to cheer Adam, her mischievous sister, Ava, a reckless vampire of barely 87 years old (Mia Wasikowska), shows up, and wreaks enough havoc in 24 hours to make it advisable for Adam to return to Tangier with Eve. However, things in Tangier have taken an alarming turn, as the two vampires find that formerly reliable hospital blood is now severely tainted and lethal. As the film drifts languidly to its close, Adam and Eve are forced to contemplate returning to "15th century" modes of survival.
The film is quiet, slow, and beautifully photographed: it manages to turn the wreck of Detroit at night into a Gothically romantic setting, as Adam in an old car shows Eve the sights, such as Detroit's stately old movie theater and the now defunct Packard factory. The soundtrack contains music from Jarmusch's own group, SQIRL.
The cast is enchanting. The pairing of the 50-year-old Swinton and the barely-over-30 Hiddleston as clearly karmically matched lovers seems at first like an odd choice, but it makes sense as Eve's much wiser and more regulated temperament is shown. The two very attractive stars make it work effortlessly; there is no attempt to make Swinton "look younger", which is nice, but the pairing also demonstrates that fifty is not exactly crone territory, and Swinton is still a beautiful woman. I was particularly taken with Swinton's subtle use of her eyes and head movements to suggest a creature who looks human but . . . isn't . . . quite. Both stars have beautiful voices to listen to and calibrated their performances perfectly to the pace and atmosphere of the film. Mia Wasikowska made the most of her brief role as the heedless, narcissistic young sister whose mischief sets the second half of the film in motion.
"Only Lovers Left Alive" is something of an acquired taste, apparently: you either fall immediately for its slow charm, or you walk out half an hour after it starts. If explosions, speed, and films where something happens every twenty seconds is your cup of tea, this film definitely won't be: very little "happens". Fortunately, this reviewer fell quickly under its spell, and actually went to see it a second time.
on 13 March 2014
I must admit, when I heard it was a vampire film I was a little sceptical. The rather baffling Twilight frenzy was still fresh in my mind, & I felt that I'd had my fill of the undead for the time being. However, Jarmusch's story is unlike any other vampire film I've seen before. It isn't a schmaltzy tale for tweens, nor a bloodfest for the horror lovers. It's cool, cultured and charismatic, and feels more like an observation of two characters that happen to be vampires than it does a vampire film. It's also surprisingly funny - Adam (Hiddleston) in particular has some rather wonderful lines, which are topped off with gloriously deadpan delivery.
The whole film is visually beautiful, with such detail in every scene (particularly those in Adam's house, which is so richly textured it's worth a second watch just to see what you missed the first time round). Also worth noting is the music, which is incredibly atmospheric & adds a lot to the feel of the film - for me, it was a highlight & I look forward to getting my hands on the soundtrack.
As far as the acting goes, I cannot fault it. I'd not seen much with Tilda Swinton or Tom Hiddleston in, so for me, they were a wonderful surprise. Both were truly marvellous as these beautiful, captivating and somewhat ethereal creatures. The characters are snobbish & world-weary, but the chemistry & mutual passion, that is still very much present after many centuries of being together, makes them endearing & somewhat enviable.
It isn't heavily plot driven. The plot points act more like minor speed bumps, to shake the characters & give them something to react to. It isn't a crash, bang, wallop kind of film, which means if won't be a film for everyone. It's about living, loving and making the best out of a world you can no longer understand. And it really is remarkable.
on 9 August 2014
One of those films where you really want to stay with these characters for much longer than the length of the film. It's basically very funny, with amazing performances from everyone. It's like a very real slice of these vampires' 'lives', and you really buy into it (well, I did!). Tom Hiddleston manages to make his character extremely likeable, despite being pretty morose all the time. It's a gorgeous film, and I enjoyed every minute of it in the cinema, so am looking forward very much to owning it on DVD!
on 26 February 2014
As a fan of anything that kicks you off kilter, I loved the meandering storyline punctuated by black humour, and the clever social commentary that runs through this movie. What Only Lovers Left Alive does is to conjure up a fresh take on Vampire mythology, adding in a few rewrites along the way. I loved the social elements that Jim Jarmusch has added, such as how they consume blood almost ritualistically from a stemmed liqueur glass, the fact they cannot enter each others homes without being invited and the wearing of gloves in public. If you are a fan of all aspects of 'Vampire', this will prove an enjoyable outing, If however you are looking for a Vampire flick that fits into a well worn mold then this is not for you. As the director Jim Jarmusch has mentioned in many interviews, this is a love story that just happens to have vampires as the main characters. His vampires are intellectual idealists, aloof to mankind because having lived so many years they have seen all our failings, again and again.
The story is anything but a thoughtless tale, best described as how we deal with all the questions that being human creates and how we survive those questions. In this case the protagonists also deal with being trapped in a world governed by humans who are abusing the Earth and polluting their blood, not learning from the past because they have not personally lived it. The upside is that in this rather depressing material there is a great deal of subtle and very clever wit; and of course two wholly engaging and delightfully portrayed protagonists: Adam and Eve.
***** Please Note The Following Contains Spoilers *****
At the centre of this modern day fable are Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and his wife Eve (Tilda Swinton) who are the ubiquitous vampires. Although never fully explained they are separated by distance, he living in Detroit and she in Tangier, but also by their philosophies and view on life. They have been married at least three times to each other, always holding fast to their relationship over the centuries.
Adam is a rather melancholy character, dressed in black like a decaying rockstar, intensely antisocial but creatively driven with a penchant for collecting musical instruments. His abode echoes his personality perfectly, a derelict house in the abandoned suburbs of Detroit, filled with books and musical equipment, half destroyed internal walls and general detritus of a long and secluded life. He is woeful for the destruction of the planet at the hands of humans (who he refers to as Zombies) and being a generally morose character he gets ideas it may be time to exit his life. Fortunately Eve calls him and agrees to leave her Tangiers home to try and elevate his mood, which she has obviously had to do before. Her life is vividly contrasting to Adam's as is her appearance. Pale haired and clothed in light colours and red, she is a calm, logical and optimistic being who sees the beauty in life. You could say she is the Yang to her husbands Yin. With the reunion of these two the story kicks off, or should I say starts to smoulder, because this is anything but an action filled, bloodlust vampiric movie. It is however a thoughtful dialogue on the meaning of life, love and how your attitude to it governs exactly what you get out of it. Which is interesting because that also sums up how you relate to the movie.
All is going well until Eva (Mia Wasikowska), Eve's sister, turns up. She is an insatiable, unstable and intrusive element in Adam and Eve's reunion. She embodies all the elements of Vampirism that her 'family' have let go. After a night out she inevitably behaves badly (in what you could see coming a mile off) by drinking Adam's human 'friend', which provides more black humour. Especially when she complains she feels sick, to which Eve replies "what do you expect, he's in the music industry". After this point the couple flee Detroit for Tangiers and Only Lovers Left Alive starts descending into a disappointing anti-climax last third, which is only lifted by John Hurt as Christopher Marlow, and a 'toothy' ending
Although the movie could be called slow and almost drawn out, it is mirroring what living centuries could feel like. What keeps the movie light is it being peppered with lots of black humour. The wooden bullet, an unfortunate death of a 'friend', the procuring of blood and numerous other incidents are subtle but undeniably funny. My favourite scene is where Eve presents Adam with a frozen blood lolly. The shameless name dropping of important people from the past and many social references also lighten the mood and balance out the flavour of the film. As mentioned, the story does move slowly and unfortunately begins to drag like a corpse behind a grave robber towards the end, but the final shot nails home the the message behind it all. Life continues, whatever we may think.
Visually the cinematography and locations are stunning, the views down on many scenes seem to reinforce the idea that eventhough the protagonists are immortal they are still very small in the scheme of things. I especially enjoyed the shots of the decaying theatre now car park, the Tangier sets and the landscape of the abandoned centre of Detroit. The images are made all the more beautiful and strange for being shot entirely at night. As for the interiors I loved Adams house with its antiquated technology (the scene where Eve calls him on her iPhone is genius) and feeling that it is a bastion of lost ideals in a world that has run away with itself. The cold desolate feel of abandoned America plays well against the warm, earthy and enduring sense of Morocco. What also needs to be mentioned is how much music features in the movie, not only because Adam is a musician, but also as a character in it's own right. A mixture of North African, Motown and music by Sqürl (Jarmusch's band), it reinforces the emotions of the story perfectly, without this soundtrack the movie would have been far different and less effecting.
As for the actors, Tilda Swinton steals every scene. Her graceful portrayal of an ageless and elegant mind is superb. Tom Hiddleston, as usual, proves he can turn his hand to almost any part. He shines as the world weary musician torn between wanting to leave his mark on the world, but also to keep his anonymity. The interaction between the two actors is the centre of the movie and makes it all the more fun to watch. Mia Wasikovska is suitably annoying and vivacious as Eva, but John Hurt as Christopher Marlow was as always fabulous.
As a thoughtful piece of cinema which provokes you to delve deeper about the meaning of human existence, Only Lovers Left Alive ticks every box. As an engaging story it misses the mark a little, and as a well paced piece of drama it fails a bit more. But as an overall ensemble you can forgive it it's flaws. For me it was outstanding and thoroughly enjoyable, having now seen it four times I can say it just gets better and better. It will easily become a cult classic if it hasn't already. Just leave your preconceptions, and misconceptions, at the door.
Thanks for reading!
Jim Jarmusch is hardly prolific, when it comes tom output, and when he makes a film it is always going to be interesting. Here he delves into the lives (or deaths) of three vampires - though the use of that word is strangely absent in this film. Tilda Swinton plays Eve - she lives in the laid back idyll of Tangier. She is a modern vamp and she relies on Christopher Marlowe (yes The Marlowe) -John Hurt - to get her `the good stuff' from an apothecary.
Meanwhile her husband Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is living the life of a rock and roll recluse in the decaying wasteland of Detroit. He has a gofor to do his bidding but also has his `supplier' while he makes music on ancient guitars. Now Eve decides to visit and their reunion is given a rude awakening when her estranged sister turns up.
Now the plot is pretty simple in that you could have told the whole lot in a short film and this lasts just under two hours. However, as with all great journeys it is the actual travelling that will often be the best part - with the destination often a foregone conclusion. This is `lyrical' and I read one review that said it moved at a `glacial pace'. Well to some it will seem like that but the performances from all concerned have to be relished to be appreciated. This will not be to everyone's taste but it certainly managed to keep me pleasantly occupied for the duration - but not too pleasant - which I think is the whole point.
on 12 November 2014
I'm not really sure what else I could possibly add to this review when others have done far better job before me but I really wanted to show my love for this film somehow and I thought this would be the best way to do it!.
I'm a massive fan of the vampire genre (not Twilight though!), so thats the only real reason I bought this film, but the whole vampire part is just left in the background and the story is focused on two people who are in love and have been married for centuries. If that sounds dull and boring then trust me when I say its not. Its a slow burner for sure, but it's beautifully shot, well written and Tilda and Tom are just awesome in it. I was also suprised by the very dead pan sence of humour it has and the soundtrack, which is briliant!.
on 13 May 2015
This is beautiful. It reminds me of Blade Runner except it is present day and has vampires. Both the lead characters, especially the lovely Tilda Swinton, deliver a mesmerizing performance. The scene is present day, but an alternate history where some long lived vampires live among us. There is talking and moody scenes and very little action. If you were looking for a high octane romp with vampires then this isn't it. Instead it is about the main characters and how they deal with their life. They are ancient, but trying to survive in a modern world amongst normals. Then there is the fact that they are in love and have been for centuries. This is portrayed convincingly yet without being overstated. The soundtrack is also amazing. A real gem of a find, an intelligent film.
on 25 February 2015
Other reviewers have said all that needs to be said. Each time I watch this I understand more and it makes me smile. Swinton and Hiddleston are wonderful and I loved all the main character performances. Approaching 50, I feel a lot like they do about the world and that is part of it's charm, the ability to reflect human experience in non-human beings.