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‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ Review

Only Lovers Left Alive
Sony Pictures Classics

Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston star as contemplative vampires in Jim Jarmusch‘s ‘Only Lovers Left Alive,’ a story that is more tone poem than film. It is a languid, existential narrative that follows Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton), two vampires who have seemingly existed since the beginning of time and have been in love for just as long, observing the world as it evolves and devolves around them. Jarmusch brings his arthouse sensibilities to the vampire genre, removing the focus from needless stereotypes and finding the humanity in the inhuman. 

Adam is a very talented musician who prefers to live his life in seclusion, refusing attention for his accomplishments, while his wife, Eve, lives on the opposite end of the world in Tangier, devouring books. Adam dresses in black, Eve in creams and whites, each embodying darkness and light; thanks to the recent popularity of ‘True Detective,’ it’s hard not to think of how light cannot exist without darkness. Eve prefers to take the optimistic approach to the world with almost childlike wonder woven through the wisdom of her ancient age, while Adam is far more pessimistic. He is the Rust Cohle, disillusioned with humans, whom he calls “zombies,” who continue to live ungratefully, destroying themselves, each other, and their world with a casual, willful and myopic selfishness. They repeat their mistakes over and over again, and Adam wonders what the point of living — in the sense that he is living — truly is.

Adam becomes something of a suicidal romantic, awakening Eve’s desire to rush to him in Detroit and save him from himself, as she has before and she will again because, like ‘True Detective’ has taught us, “time is a flat circle,” and everything that is happening has happened and will happen again. But there are always variables, like Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska in a delightful but small supporting role), who comes around to shake things up, to show that there are other ways of living when times get desperate or when you’re just bored enough with convention.

‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ is far from the typical, both in vampiric and filmic narrative — it traipses sexily along at its own pace, more interested in the moody observations of its characters and distilling tone than manufacturing an engaging climax. Perhaps the most interesting thematic element is the way Adam returns, time and again, to Einstein’s theory of “spooky action at a distance,” the way that two particles or objects can be separated by thousands of miles. If one feels something, so will the other, just like Adam and Eve themselves. It’s the same theory applied to identical twins, that if one gets hurt, the other will feel a vague pain; that if one dies, the other will suddenly feel that something is amiss or jolt awake in the middle of the night, knowing that a great loss has occurred.

While the film is exceedingly contemplative, it is a tad cold. For all the poetic cinematography and existential pondering, the film itself feels trapped in a state of ennui, reflective too much, perhaps, of Adam’s mood. Hiddleston and Swinton are exquisite, though, and seem to have been grown and nurtured in the same eccentric incubators. It’s odd that it has taken them this long to act opposite one another, but their chemistry is sensational, and if nothing else, the film is a fine showcase for the pair.

In an effort to revive Adam’s spirit and his optimism, Eve takes him to Tangier, where centuries of comfortable, habitual living are soon called into question. (Remember that variable that could shake things up?) Perhaps it is Adam and Eve, perhaps they are the key. Instead of simply observing, they must participate in life. Instead of merely co-existing with the living, they must try to live.

Rating Meter 7

‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ opens this April 11.

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