The one vampire movie you wouldn’t want to miss: A review of Only Lovers Left Alive

Director: Jim Jarmusch
Screenplay: Jim Jarmusch
Cinematography: Yorick Le Saux
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska

Cool. There’s no other word for it.

Only Lovers Left Alive gives the audience a peek into another dimension of the vampire universe, with a more traditional characterization of the creature that most are familiar with (and which do not necessarily sound absurd or illogical) – pale, capable of death via wood pierced through the heart, nocturnal, sun aversion, and no vegetarian preference with animal blood. The lovers referred to in the title are Adam (Tom Hiddleston), an epitome of Hamlet inside a brooding, eccentric, and popular rock musician, and Eve (Tilda Swinton), a voracious reader and lover of life, or whatever kind of life it is that they have. He collects vintage instruments (swoon at the instruments or Tom Hiddleston?). She fills suitcases with books. Arguably, in my book, they are the coolest vampires since Lestat. The hip vibe, more than just espousing coolness, focuses on the significance of culture.

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The two characters represent two sides of a coin: the good and bad sides of the power to live forever. As Adam contemplates suicide by having a wooden bullet crafted, he portrays the negative view, that perpetual living reduced what meaning he derived from existence. He is constantly bothered by what he refers to as “zombies” – not the actual kind, but the deterioration humanity has succumbed to. It is shown that he might have lived through the eras of Copernicus and Galileo, all the way to Byron, and as the centuries descend upon him, the further he loses hope in the human race.  On the other hand, after finding the said bullet, Eve shows him that despite all the adversity and chaos, there is hope yet. Instead of thinking about ourselves, and being occupied with the things we demand of this world, we can appreciate all that we can and have. As to this, Tilda Swinton delivers the best line of the film: “How can you have lived for so long and still not get it?”

And it’s true. We rarely get it. Even among the living there is a waste of living. It’s difficult to embody the ideal espoused by Eve, as the struggle of Adam becomes all the more real. Should there be a standard we can impose on the world for us to be satisfied? Is happiness determined by how the world works? How should we live our lives? In the end, so much as we rarely get it, we have to be constantly reminded that perhaps life isn’t imprisoned within the limited view we’ve imposed upon it. There is more to it than the harsh reality that seems to beset the world and squander the essence of the human spirit. While this eternal debate wages among humanity, there is in fact no one true answer. 

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With regard to the technical and cinematic aspects of the film, the quality of the scenes fits its tone perfectly especially the depiction of the euphoria a vampire feels upon drinking blood, and the opening credits as an introduction to the main characters. There are scenes without dialogue–just pure depiction–for the audience to soak it all in. Also laudable is the score that was referenced in the movie as Adam’s composition. The performances of the two leads are enough to hook the audience; different act  ors would not have achieved the same dynamism and effortless chemistry, not to mention Tilda Swinton’s ethereal quality. The film was weird, but for good measure, and definitely one of the best ones around.

Jarmusch’s genius provides us with the actual point of it all: the power to live forever is not all it’s cut out to be. When you’ve been around forever, can you see humanity going in another direction? But in the end, love, another human experience and capability, saves Adam from self-destruction and his growing disillusionment with the world. So there’s still that to hold on to.


MNL Film Club Score: 1.25