Only Lovers Left Alive

March 19, 2014

adam, eveAfter two weeks of postponing this article, today I gathered my thoughts, got another mug of coffee and sat down to write about Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. And I can’t tell you how nervous I was. I’ve watched this film three times already: the first time was for my own pleasure, the second time because I wanted to write down some quotes and the last time because I wanted to have the scenes fresh in my mind when writing about them. That being said, let’s begin.

I was beyond excited when I learnt of this film. I demand a lot when it comes to vampires, whether they are presented in literature or in motion pictures… I demand even more if they fall in love. I was disappointed so many times, but once I saw the cast I had to try it no matter what. There are not many characters, therefore not many actors. But, damn, they are good! We’re going to see Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska and John Hurt.

It’s a love story between two vampires, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton). I need to stop here for a moment… seriously, Adam and Eve? I get it, the adamic couple (with a twist), maybe the fall of man; I understand the symbolic value, but come on! Yes, I’m being subjective here, I dislike these names… and Ava. But I won’t linger, it’s just a detail. Moving on to the more interesting aspects, the focus isn’t on the action, but on the characters, especially on the couple. Nothing much happens, we basically see the reunion of a man and a woman who adore each other and need one another to survive eternity. It’s not a horror film, the emphasis is placed on their love. The fact that they are vampires seems just a pretext to underline the fact that their love is so strong that absolutely nothing can destroy it. It’s true love and it’s beautiful.

If we are to speak briefly of the way the vampires are presented here, I would like to say that I appreciate the fact that Jim Jarmusch found a nice balance between tradition and innovation. Thank God, his vampires are not wimps – who consider themselves oh so dangerous –, idiots or acting worse than teenagers despite their age… if you’re over one hundred years old, you should act a little more mature than the average human. Show some dignity! Our vampires need blood to survive, they drink human blood (no, they usually don’t bite, that’s so fucking 15th century), they have fangs and they need to be invited in if they want to cross a threshold – otherwise it brings bad luck. They have fast reflexes, sleep during the day – in beds, comfort is key – and, what’s quite a nice touch, they always wear gloves when they go out. The gloves are elegant and cool, but wearing glasses at night is a big NO from me. What’s their use if the vampires don’t even have red eyes here? And why do they need torches at night, weren’t they supposed to see in the dark?

Let me tell you one thing, though. Yes, it does have its flaws, but I fucking love this film. Adam and Eve are fascinating, just like adam eveTom and Tilda are. The actors do a great job making you believe that yes, they look young, but they are much older than one might think. The way they move, the way they speak – even the occasional swearing – everything makes you believe that they are creatures of the night. Not mindless, but intelligent, sensitive, unafraid of creativity, lovers of beauty, of art. And they complement each other perfectly. Adam is dark, broody, sarcastic, mourning a world that is slowly changing… or dying, if we look through his eyes. Eve is the moon which shines in his darkest hour. She’s always shown in light colours, from her clothes to her blonde hair, she’s lively and simply charming.

I want to speak about Eve because, to me, she was the greatest surprise. I’ve always admired Tilda Swinton, but this role just blew me away. Adam says at one point “Eve, you’re ruthless, you’re brutal!”; her reply: “I’m a survivor, baby!”. And she is a survivor, she is able to adapt to whatever changes life throws her way, she sees beauty in everything, taking advantage of her immortality: “Life is about surviving things, appreciating nature, nurturing kindness and friendship, and dancing”. These are Tilda’s words, just like the bit where Adam speaks about humans being afraid of creativity belongs to Tom.

Eve is everything I’ve ever wanted in a female vampire since Selene. I was starting to lose hope that someone would actually go “hey, not only men can be great vampires”. She is gentle and strong and intelligent and she loves books (she packs two suitcases of them when she goes to meet her husband and leaves many more behind). She is such a good example of what a proper female vampire should be. We don’t know how old Adam and Eve are, or how they had been turned, but I’m willing to bet Eve is older. She’s obviously more experienced and can live alone without slipping into depression. I want more characters like her.

Adam is just as complex as his wife (did I mention that they’ve been married since 1868? For the third time). But he sees life in a different way, he cannot understand how people let themselves be ruled by fear and stifle any trace of imagination. In short, he is disappointed with the way the world changes, but finds solace in music and in Eve. If you put these two together, you see that they come together like two pieces of a puzzle, neither complete without the other. There is so much love hidden in his heart… and so much pain. For Adam, Eve is his lover, wife, mother, mentor; she is the only one who can actually pull him away from the edge of the cliff, make him see that life is worth living.

adam & eveThe reunion scene is touching. It is heart-warming to see them reunited, loving and comforting each other. There is something new and also incredibly old in their love. Passion and routine are interwoven; they’ve been married for centuries, know everything about the other, but never allow their love to fade. They spend the days sleeping and the nights reading, dancing or making love. These two look wonderful together. They live in their own world and everything seems perfect until Ava, Eve’s younger sister, drops in uninvited and destroys everything.

Ava is played by Mia Wasikowska and she is, in my opinion, the most dangerous character in this film. She enjoys her condition a bit too much and she cannot be controlled. She listens only to her instincts, stopping at nothing in order to feed and have fun. She is like a wild teenager, one who has too much power and freedom. The two sisters love each other, Eve taking on a mother-like role at times, but that does not stop Ava from doing whatever the hell she wants, regardless of the consequences. My favourite line coming from her is “I might’ve been born at night, but I wasn’t born last night”… just goes to show that she’s confident in everything she does.

Moving on from that, it is so adorable to see little Mia swear… although “fuck” is thrown around here and there, there’s not one drop of vulgarity in this film. There’s a sense of elegance and mystery that keeps away the low aspects of life and not even Ava can destroy that. Adam dislikes (maybe even hates) his sister-in-law, so I am looking forward to see Mia and Tom in Crimson Peak, to watch them bring to life a married couple. I’m not sure what their relationship will be, so I’m excited to see what these two have prepared for us.

Humans are almost non-existent… except for Adam’s friend. They are seen as zombies, destroying and contaminating everything, even their own blood. We learn that the art we admire the most (music or literature) wasn’t created by humans, but by vampires who wanted to keep living in shadows, but make their work known. One example that stands out is Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) giving Shakespeare – described as an “illiterate zombie philistine” – his plays. What’s disturbing is that we know that Adam is not all that wrong in the way he sees people; sure, not all of us are like that, but the fact that fear keeps us in a leash, often destroying what is new and different, is very much true.

Finally, I love the music, it’s enchanting. It keeps a steady pace and helps you join the characters as they move slowly through life. And I like the way the camera moves when the vampires drink blood… the emphasis falls on the expression that crosses their faces, the same one every time: pure ecstasy. As for the ending, well… it was quite unexpected, the starting point of a new period.

To wrap this up, the film has its flaws, but I will watch it again anytime with pleasure. We need more films like this one, more actors and actresses like the ones keeping us company here. Nowadays, it is not often for us to get a film with vampires from which you can actually learn something else, one where they are presented as grown-ups; I don’t want to see characters immortal in their stupidity. To everybody who made this project come to life: thank you!


Interview (Cannes)

by Elena Atudosiei

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13 Responses to Only Lovers Left Alive

  1. Maria on June 13, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    You know…this article made me wanna see it…
    I will give it a try 🙂

  2. Mihaela on June 28, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    I know you’re gonna hate me but I thought it lacked a lot of things. First of all, they both have lived for so long, where are all the things from the past? Apart from the 20th Century memorabilia, they don’t seem to have anything else from the previous centuries. And if they’re so dwelled in the past why don’t they commemorate more than just the 60-70’s? Then there’s the connection between Adam and Eve which didn’t seem like much. It would have been interesting to explore their minds and see how they interact on a more spiritual level. Eve wasn’t so light either, apart from the clothing and that line that you’ve mentioned already, how about an attitude or a certain action to prove that. The music was nice, but somehow it seemed like a music video rather than a movie. It seemed to me like there was too much focus on the ecstasy of the blood drinking and it literally had to show every vampire’s face when they drank blood in slow motion which seemed like wasted time. After all Jim Jarmusch said that they happened to be vampires, it shouldn’t have been such a big deal. I liked the idea of intellectual vampires, that makes perfect sense and I found it delightful. I liked Adam as a character, his attitude towards humans seemed realistic, even humans towards other humans have it, but I would have liked a deeper exploration of the characters. After all, they’ve lived for centuries, they must have a very complex mind and spirit. This movie had huge potential, but somehow the characters seemed just frail sketches of what they should have been. I’m not even going to complain about the fact that nothing happens, Jarmusch could have replaced that with character depth easily. The ending gave me conflicted feelings. After almost two hours of engaging the viewer into his world, it still felt like I was barely at the gate trying to open the door, and when I finally stepped in, I was transported back in the real world. Ava seemed the most lively of them all, but I wasn’t surprised of what she did, I’m amazed that Adam or Eve didn’t expect that happening after they’ve been knowing her for so long. I realized what she could do after five minutes of seeing her. Anyway, the atmosphere, the music (especially from the dancing scene and Jasmine), the fact that they know so much about so many things (Eve’s usage of Latin names for things was nice and Adam’s passion for guitars) but all in all the movie was too minimalistic for me. Sorry!

    • Elena Atudosiei on June 28, 2014 at 8:20 pm

      Oh, don’t be silly… I could never hate you! 🙂 Looking back at it, now that several months went by, I don’t remember much. I couldn’t write a summary because nothing much happens. But I enjoyed it, I honestly needed it. It could have been better, yes, and I would have liked to see more. But for this film, for me, for that moment, it was enough, especially because I could fill in the blanks myself after watching it.

      And about what you said about the previous centuries: well, they might not have things which stand proof for their lives during that time (which is understandable), but I remember them speaking about the past, not only about the 20th century. I agree with what you said about Ava, they should have seen it coming.

      And don’t forget: just because we like the same actors and films, it doesn’t mean that we’ll always share the same opinion. Which is perfectly fine! Thank you for the comment, Mihaela!

  3. kelsi on July 9, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    I had such high hopes for this movie. Sadly though I wasnt really impressed. The names irked me from the start, but like yo7 said just details. I hated the minimalistic format of this movie. It had such potential and by the end I felt like I had just eaten a meal at a fancy french bistro. I was still hungry for more. The relationship was nice, but I felt it lacked depth in a lot of ways. Ava wwasthe liveliest of them all. When she appeared my first thought was finally a plot has apeared. Again I was disappointed. I felt they could have done so much more with her. Instead she was a small drop of mild chaos in their lives. The ending was what I expected to be honest. It just left me conflicted. All in all I was very disappointed.

    • Elena Atudosiei on July 10, 2014 at 3:05 pm

      I wanted more, too. I want more now, looking back at it. Ava was pretty interesting, but I feel like she was put there just to push the protagonists towards a specific ending. For all the things I liked in OLLA, what I didn’t want to see was Tom Hiddleston showing his fangs like he did in one of the final scenes, if you remember… it wasn’t scary, it was simply hilarious 🙂

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  5. Achillia Laufeyson on August 14, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    Today I watched the movie for the first time. I was like “Tom playing a vampire? Need to see that” and yes it was rewarding! A totally different vamp-movie , which shows not the killing , the savage , blood-sucking creature but the love , the feelings of it. When the movie ended I didn’t know if I like it or not at first but after considering everything I came to a conclusion : Even without a great scenario with suspense and drama and killing this “pure” movie makes you wanna watch and live along with the characters, in their -centuries long- lifes. Great article by the way and i definitely agree with your comments 🙂

    • Elena Atudosiei on August 15, 2015 at 7:25 am

      I wrote another article recently and I loved rewatching the film and putting my thoughts on paper once more (I’ll add a link on the facebook page when the article appears online). I still love it. I can understand why it might not be what some viewers expect to see, but it’s still a nice experience for me. Thank you for the comment, I hope you’ll find more articles and poems to enjoy on eLitere! (By the way, I love your name 🙂 )

  6. Devika on November 6, 2015 at 9:04 am

    Perfect review, I’d have written much the same. 🙂

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