With the new year approaching, we celebrate our films of 2014. Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive is up.
Love, friendship and uncomfortable sibling relationships aren’t the usual components you’d expect from your basic vampire film formula. Only Lovers Left alive has human emotion and relations at its core. Vampires with morals, emotions? Get out of here. But this unlikely combination works. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), a husband and wife vampire unit whose love has crossed, and indeed endured the ages, are the focus of this story.
Part of Adam’s depression is because of the way that the “zombies” have treated the world they’ve been gifted with
Through Adam’s isolation as a solitary but sought after musician, we are shown a dark and brooding modern day Detroit, bereft of the happiness and lust for life which are so central to Eve’s character, living in the remains of the old world in Tangier. She is the injection of light into his previously sombre and depressed life. Despite their differing personas, both agree unanimously on one thing: blood. They both secure the blood they need from “clean” sources, fearing contamination by human disease. Adam, from a hospital at which he pays copious amounts of money to a doctor; then Eve’s arrangement is with Kit, her long term friend, and, as we later learn, the real Bard, the ultimate reason behind Shakespeare’s success.
This is the standout difference and what makes Only Lovers Left Alive the film of 2014. While films such as Interview With a Vampire, Dracula et al depict humans as the victims, Only Lovers Left Alive completely bucks the trend. Part of Adam’s depression, and the reason he asks his only human contact, Ian, to secure him a wooden bullet as he contemplates ending it all, is because of the way that the “zombies” (his term for human beings) have treated the world they have been gifted with.
A love for music, science and literature are central to both Adam and Eve’s characters. Often they speak in historic terms of times gone by to give us an appreciation of the time passed between the two. A sensual, bell-heavy and ultimately brooding soundtrack adds to the sensuality of the eons-long relationship between the two. Although they have been apart for some time, they are reunited when Eve senses how despondent Adam has become. She crosses the world to essentially cheer him up and rid him of his sadness at the apparent desecration of the world.
Adam has lost his peers and his understanding of his place in the world as it currently stands. Only he and Eve remain
It brings home the idea of loss of identity. Adam has lost many companions of great and notable contributions through the ages. Indeed we see a wall in his Detroit apartment covered in every inch with the greats, such as Isaac Newton, Keats, Byron. He has lost his peers and his understanding of his place in the world as it currently stands. Only he and Eve remain; it is their love that maintains him only. That is, until Ava (Mia Wasikowska) arrives.
For those seeking some of the more typical traits of a vampire movie, Ava fulfils that desire wonderfully. Hungry for blood and a good time when she arrives in Detroit to visit, Eve’s sister is the chaos and bloodlust which should really be present in any vampire film. After all, they are soulless night dwellers, hungry for one thing, aren’t they? Well, as it goes, no, actually. Adam’s fierce love for music, Eve’s voracious desire for literature and Marlowe’s playwriting don’t exactly scream of a singular, hunger driven frame of mind. Even Ava’s childlike annoyance of her bigger sister and her lover establishes evidence of bonds between those who only walk at night.
Tilda Swinton’s Eve is a thing to behold; it cements Swinton’s impeccable versatility as an actor. It’s her ethereal, sensual performance that adds the lighthearted backbone to this atmospheric, stylish masterpiece. Despite her immortality, she has chosen to treat her vampirism as a gift. Unlike Adam and Ava, whom refer to the “zombies” with disdain, Eve views them with an almost human empathy, smiling enigmatically at what the other vampires view as a bad state of human ignorance.
The spotlight is turned on us. Do we give the legacies of art and science left to us by deceased masters the respect they deserve?
It’s no secret that Jarmusch faced extreme difficulties in securing funding to create the film. It’s no doubt because of the brave decision he made to reverse the vampire/human dynamic of vampire stories centuries old, since Bram Stoker’s Dracula set the mould so many centuries ago. The spotlight is turned on us humans. Does this world really belong to us? Do we give the legacies of art and science left to us by the great deceased masters the respect and marvel they deserve? Uneasy questions, but questions that no doubt should be and need to be asked, much more than they are. Only Lovers Left Alive is an achingly cool, emotionally challenging film that is set to become a cult classic.
All images: Sony Pictures Classics