When I first read about Only Lovers Left Alive, I must confess that I was super excited. Seriously. It’s a movie staring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as vampires whose love for each other spans centuries. I was promised sexiness and brooding. Well, I can’t say that the movie didn’t deliver on those promises.
What I can say is that this is not a movie for people with short attention spans. When I talk about the movie, I take great pains to mention that it is an art film. I feel like that adjusts expectations slightly. See, this is a movie more about being than it is about doing. If that makes any sense.
See, not a whole lot actually happens plot-wise. Tom Hiddleston’s Adam broods and contemplates suicide and broods some more. He also plays music. So, that’s cool. Tilda Swinton’s Eve balances his brooding out with more joie de vivre. Unlike her beloved, she can appreciate all of the little things in life that seem to exist merely to piss Adam off and remind him that things were so much better back in the day.
One of the earliest scenes in the movie is Adam receiving guitars from Ian (Anton Yelchin). He glories in how well-constructed these decades-old guitars are with the unspoken subtext being that things were made so much better in the past. Yes, folks, this is a movie with more hipster sensibilities than I expected.
The movie is deliberately slow to make you revel in the crumbling expanse of Detroit and focus on the quiet moments between Adam and Eve. Well, at least I’m assuming that the glacial pace was a deliberate choice on the director’s part. I’m also going to to assume that the darkly comic moments that are peppered throughout the film were also a deliberate choice. Then again, I am easily amused by the most random things. So, it’s hard to tell.
This movie is steeped in ennui and a battle to rise above the mundane to find a reason to keep going in this seemingly endless existence. I don’t really know what lesson I learned from it. All I know is that I was strangely comfortable just sitting there and watching Adam and Eve be sexy together. It’s fun to note that Tom Hiddleston struggled with not smiling while filming. There’s only one scene where Adam nearly smiles and it’s one of the sweetest moments in the film.
Rounding out the cast of characters in this film are Marlowe (John Hurt), Ava (Mia Wasikowska), and Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright). Marlowe has been friends with Adam and Eve for centuries, Ava is Eve’s wild child sister, and Dr. Watson is responsible for many of the humorous moments in the film as Adam’s blood supplier. If it wasn’t for Ava, there probably wouldn’t have been any sort of friction in the movie outside of Adam’s battle against ennui.
If I was a better film scholar, I could launch into some discussion about how the movie addresses art and what constitutes good art. I could talk about how Adam is a metaphor for Detroit or vice versa. I could talk about the visual style of the movie and what it adds to the atmosphere of the film. I’m not, though, so you’re just going to have to deal with what I’ve got here.
Long story short, have a couple of glasses of some alcoholic beverage (if that’s your thing) and just chill in front of the screen. Don’t expect major action scenes or a lot of action in general. Again, if you have a short attention span, this film will probably not be your cup of tea. Otherwise, watch the pretty and try not to absorb too much of the brooding and I think you’ll be okay.
One final note: As I was researching a bit for this review, I was reminded that this film is a British-German production. That explains so much.