Film reviews and more since 2009

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) review

Dir. Jim Jarmusch

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★

Part of me and my girlfriend’s 30-movie Halloween marathon.

The Lost Boys tantalized young people and outcasts with its depiction of the vampiric lifestyle as something akin to an act of rebellion. Remember the tagline on the poster? “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire.” That film became one of the foundational pillars of Hot Topic culture, which later morphed into emo culture, which then “gifted” us a series of sparkly, melodramatic vampires in the Twilight book and movie series.

Think of Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive not so much as a reclamation of vampires from the teen girl crowd (the film was released mere months after The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2 hit theaters in America), but a quasi-realistic depiction of how world-weary vampires would become if the adage of The Lost Boys was gospel. Jarmusch’s acclaimed fantasy-drama from 2013 illustrates two vampire lovers, who live on opposite ends of the Earth, both fighting fatigue and boredom in drastically different ways.

There’s Adams (Tom Hiddleston), a sullen, suicidal bloodsucker who lives in a rundown Detroit neighborhood, surrounded by vintage music equipment: vinyl records, irreplaceable Gibson guitars, analog stereos, mixers, and more clutter his apartment, as he has spent the last few centuries trying to perfect his sound. His closest friends are Ian (Anton Yelchin), a young, naïve musician, whom he pays to track down vintage items he doesn’t yet have, and Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright), who supplies him with “O negative” blood to keep him going.

Like his lover, Eve (Tilda Swinton), who lives in Tangiers, Adam avoids feeding in the conventional sense. He relies on the coveted blood-type to keep him full and youthful, and so as not to draw attention to himself.

Eve is significantly more content than her lover. She gets her fix from the legendary playwright, Christopher Marlow (John Hurt), who lives under a fake name, and has a vast library of literature to keep her occupied for, you’d reckon, another century at least. She loves her books so much that when Adam convinces her to make the trek to the Motor City, most of the belongings she packs are novels and encyclopedias.

The two enjoy nightly gab-and-chatters before sleeping at/around sunrise. Their reunion, however, is abruptly disturbed by the arrival of Eve’s grating and mischief-making younger sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), who shows up ostensibly to cause nothing but problems for the couple.

Wasikowska’s entry into the material comes at the right time, as up until that point, Only Lovers Left Alive moves at a laconic pace. Hushed dialog, aesthetically pretty shots (courtesy of cinematographer Yorick Le Saux, Swimming Pool), and an unhurried sense of time makes sinking your teeth into this vampire flick something of a challenge. It takes time to adapt to the leisurely pace with which Adam and Eve operate. What hurry should they be in, after all? They’ve been around for hundreds of years, and their conversations with one another have the blasé tone of two individuals who have seen and done it all.

Similar to Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Only Lovers Left Alive invites the presence of great historical figures into the mix, although unlike one of Allen’s best films, most exist in name only. Adam’s home is powered by technology engineered by his once-close friend, Nikola Tesla, and Marlowe’s reliance on O negative, let alone his very existence at all, is kept hush-hush with Eve being one of his only friends. There’s a lived-in quality to Adam and Eve’s worldly first-hand knowledge of their surroundings.

The excitement and “new car smell” of living forever has long worn off, so to speak, and while Eve might be happier than Adam, she herself can’t read books forever. Or can she? It becomes clear late in the third act that the title of one of Jarmusch’s most praised works is an optimistic wish, as opposed to a statement. When it comes to vampire movies without much of a narrative bite, it’s a blessing when you have two gifted performers in Hiddleston and Swinton to carry the dramatic lifting. Both are believably detached from the concerns of the mortals (or “zombies,” as Adam refers to them) that surround them.

Only Lovers Left Alive can be a challenging sit, but stick with it, and you might find its casually dropped musings and gloomily witty dialog captivate you enough to devour by the second-half.

NOTE: As of this writing, Only Lovers Left Alive is streaming on Pluto TV, free of charge, and on Hulu, with a subscription.

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, Jeffrey Wright, and John Hurt. Directed by: Jim Jarmusch.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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