TIFF 2013: Only Lovers Left Alive
Only Lovers Left Alive is the story of a moody and brooding Adam [Tom Hiddleston], a four hundred year-old vampire, and his loss of interest in life, his devotion to his wife, Eve, and and perhaps most of all, his distaste for humankind and our current bleak neglect of the world.
It seems, for the most part, that he is cultured and civilized as you would expect any modern vampire to be, aside from his reclusiveness. His want for solitude leaves him living in an ageing house in beautiful but very desolate Detroit. He pours what little passion he has left into his music. Eve [Tilda Swinton], while still very serious and reflective, is much more optimistic. She travels from Marrakesh to come be with him, and attempt to show her there’s some beauty and hope left in the world.
Things go arwy when Eve’s younger ‘sister’ Ava [Mia Wasikowska], the epitome of reckless and unreserved tracks them down, and causes havoc. The pair then train back to Marrakesh where they ponder their very ability to continue to survive.
The movie was hauntingly beautiful, and Tilda Swindon was born to play a vampire, obviously. The story itself is delicate, and very serious. There are notes of humour, but punched between the emotional struggle the main characters feel as they linger on, and on. The idea that Adams depression is cyclical is an important point, as is Ava’s misbehaviour, giving us the idea that we’re watching just a window of their otherwise much longer story, which includes several episodes such as these.
Tilda was magnificent, playing Eve as ethereal, but practical. The very essence of undated grace. Tom, channelling perhaps a version of Lestat (although he was asked about studying any vampire fiction to prepare, to which his reply was no), as it seems only natural that undying beings become musicians, poets and artists.
Anton Yelchin and John Hurt play fantastic supporting roles, and Jarmusch’s directing is pointed and solid, as should be assumed. Although I could probably have done without the music-history-buff in-jokes, and slam-you-over-the-head costume symbolism (Eve head to toe in white, Adam in Black). Unfortunately, or perhaps as a point, the story didn’t really offer a conclusion, and in my opinion fizzled in the final quarter – however it does leave us wondering about Adam and Eve’s fates, and as Jarmusch said during the Q&A, that’s wonderful – meaning they live on, not just on the screen.
When I told people I was going to see a vampire movie for my first TIFF showing, I got a lot of eye-rolling and groans. “What is it with vampires?!” one person cried. And while I admit that I am a sucker for all things vampiric, I can agree that the concept is getting a little played out. So finding something as off-the wall as Only Lovers Left Alive is great. It has some pitfall, being a rather sloooow plot with very little action and certainly no outright horror elements. So if you go in expecting True Blood you will be sorely disappointed. Instead what we have is a character study on how terribly dreary it would be to truly be immortal. Tom Hiddleston’s Adam is stuck in a centuries-long ennui and it is eating him up. He is enables in his reclusive music-making habits by his assistant, Anton Yelchin’s Ian. He is also teased by his long-distance wife, Tilda Swinton’s Eve, for being relentlessly gloomy. But despite her efforts to keep him in touch with the world around them he is ever retreating into himself. An agoraphobic vampire, I love it!
The film also takes a turn into comedy when they are visited by Eve’s whirlwind of a vampire sister, Ava. Mia Wasikowska’s Ava breathes sudden colour and life into the dank and timeless cave that Adam has created for himself, and while he grumps and groans for every minute of her visit she does manage to draw him out. However, like only family can, she sours things quickly with her reckless behaviour. You see that despite their longevity and power that these creatures are still just as vulnerable to emotional hurt and fear of change as any of us. Again, if you are expecting a spooky gorefest this is the wrong movie. Director Jim Jarmusch has instead given us a touching look into what life looks like when it continues on into eternity.