Only Lovers Left Alive (A Review)
I recently had the honor of being only the second audience to see Only Lovers Left Alive as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival at the lovely vintage Civic theater. It is a droll comedy of middle-aged marriage staring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. No, you’re not reading the wrong review.
Adam, played by Tom Hiddleston, and Eve, played by Tilda Swinton, have been married for a long time. Adam is living in the barren outskirts of Detroit (filmed in the barren outskirts of Detroit), where he is a completely reclused musician. He’s self-recording pieces that sound a bit like the 90’s Punk/Grunge transition but with a drop of 60’s Hendrix, and modern electric mixing. His only contacts with the outside world are Ian, played by Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the Star Trek reboots), who acquires for him vintage electric guitars from the 50’s and 60’s as well as pristine vinyl recordings, and Dr. Watson, played by Jeffrey Wright, who sells him ‘the good stuff’.
Eve, played by Tilda Swinton is living in Tangiers (filmed in Tangiers), in small rooms filled with beautiful old books and not much else. She spends time hanging out at a local café where she meets with an old friend who answers to the name Marlowe (played by John Hurt). He knows a ‘good French doctor’ who supplies them both with ‘the good stuff’.
While it’s never explained why they are living apart at the time they do talk, her on her shiny new iphone, he on a jury rigged setup between his laptop, remote, and nearly antique TV. When he admits he’s writing a lot of funeral music and bemoaning the state of civilization she decides it’s time to go to Detroit.
Together they are a nicely married couple. They have some rough moments, disagreements, but they also still dance in the living room to their favorite records, curl around each other in sleep, and praise each other’s work even when they won’t praise their own. When Eve’s party girl little sister, Ava, shows up from LA uninvited, unwanted, and unforgiving for her last visit Adam does his best to suck it up and tolerate her because that’s what spouses do with their in-laws.
Oh, and they’re vampires. There are no sparkles. There is no running off to hunt the moment there is darkness. Instead there are pillows pulled over heads and grumbles about sleeping in. There is in fact no hunting at all as most human blood now has toxins, hence the need to buy ‘the good stuff’, clean blood off doctors for wads of cash. While ages aren’t given it’s implied they are probably at least a thousand. That’s a long time to be in love.
They are not stuck in the dusty past like some classic vampires. Adam considers Tesla one of his heroes. Eve teases her husband for having a dressing gown that’s over two hundred. Some of their favorite songs are blues and jazz that is old to us and yesterday to them. The supernatural powers that we see are little more than some speed and an apparent ability to see the future in broad strokes. But it’s unclear if the precognition is actually a supernatural ability or if they are just old enough to understand the patters of human behavior.
Overall I would highly recommend this film. The first act pacing is a little slow but it lays the groundwork for the sweet, truthful, and often funny relationship the blooms as soon as Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are on screen together.
As for the cast Tilda Swinton and John Hurt are actors that could read the federal budget and still be good. With this scrip they are far better than good. Anton Yelchin is funny and unrecognizable with his long rock ‘n roll hair, and slightly stoned American accent. And Tom Hiddleston truly stands out in this. He invokes a 90’s Seattle musician world-weariness (actually earned in his case), but with a steady, honest, constant love for his wife that is plainly obvious to anyone at a glance. And if you only know him as Loki from the Marvel juggernauts you’ll really want to see him in this. Also look up The Hollow Crown mini-series. He was good in that too.
According to IMDb the next screening is in October in Taiwan as it’s doing the festival circuit but as it bounces around the globe do try to find it if it comes anywhere near your area.