Staff Review/ Only Lovers Left Alive

Cornerhouse Digital Reporter Tom Grieve reviews Only Lovers Left Alive

Vampires vs. Zombies; it’s the kind of high concept genre set-up that you might not necessarily expect to feature at your local art-house cinema. The zombies here are metaphorical though, the term used by Tom Hiddlestone’s vampire Adam for the unappreciative, brain-dead humans that have inherited the earth. In Only Lovers Left Alive, vampires don’t feed on humans if they can help it, for they are far too refined, choosing instead to spend their eternal existence devouring science and culture.

Director Jim Jarmusch has been bending and blending genre for years, applying his laid-back hyper-literate sensibility to stories of urban samurai assassins, contemporary Don Juan’s, road-trips and stick-ups gone wrong. This is a typically languid Jarmuschian take on vampire folklore, with Hiddlestone’s Adam and his wife Eve (Tilda Swinton) content just to be around one another for most of the runtime. Frankly it’s hard to blame them; they provide such good company for the first hour that the later emergence of a plot involving Eve’s sister only proves an unwelcome intrusion.

Splitting its time between Detroit and Tangier, Only Lovers Left Alive is at its strongest when it lets us kick back with the characters and wallow in the splendor of their world. Adam and Eve are chic sophisticates, beautifully clothed and prone to excitedly referencing the great artists and thinkers of history. But importantly they remain subject to their animal impulses, still human in matters of lust, love and hunger. Watching the pair dance around Adam’s impossibly perfect Detroit home to a vinyl recording of Denise LaSelle’s ‘Trapped By A Thing Called Love’ is a joyous experience.

This could all have come across as a bit affected, a bit too self-consciously cool, were it not for the convincing earnestness with which Jarmusch and his characters express their tastes. Adam feebly protests that he doesn’t have heroes, but the framed photographs of the likes of Buster Keaton, Edgar Allen Poe and Albert Einstein that line his walls beg to differ. Meanwhile Eve delightedly notes the Latin names of every organism she comes across – Swinton’s delivery of the line “Mephitis mephitis!” on encountering a skunk is sweet and very, very funny. The film ultimately emerges as a sort of ecstatic monument to the great works of humanity; with the eternal perspective of the vampire used both to provide an insight into where we have been and where we are going.

Adam and Eve have seen it all, lived through the ages, befriended Byron and written adagios for Schubert, but their eternity on earth forces them to look forward as well. The dereliction of Detroit seems to support Adam’s notion of mankind’s decline, but the way Eve maternally coos “Aww, little Jack White.”, when shown the musicians childhood home, seem to suggest that everything might not be lost. Indeed the speed and voracity with which she devours literature – despite literally having all the time on earth – acts to scold anybody grown jaded with the world.

In combining surface cool and style whilst remaining warmly genuine in its convictions, Only Lovers Left Alive is that rare film that manages to be explicitly about the joys of living (despite the characters being undead) whilst successfully avoiding any charges of twee sentimentality. It’s bliss.

Only Lovers Left Alive previews at Cornerhouse this Fri 14 Feb at 20:10. Book your tickets and watch the trailer here.