Film Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

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Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are two vampires who cope very differently with modern life. Eve embraces it whilst Adam rejects it and shuts himself off from the world. However, when Eve’s wild-child little sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) turns up, both their worlds are thrown into disarray.

Fans of director Jim Jarmusch will have an inkling of what to expect from Only Lovers Left Alive. It’ll be highly stylised, told at walking pace and you’ll have to dig deep to find much semblance of plot. Sounds pretty perfect for the world of vampires, doesn’t it?

Both Adam and Eve have been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years and we get two very different perspectives on what is essentially eternal life and how they cope with it. Both have learnt to resist the urge to quench their thirst for blood direct from humans, instead sourcing it from specialist dealers; just part of the ubiquitous drug analogy that runs throughout the film.

Eve seems much more comfortable evolving over time; she has an iPhone, is happy to travel and is more outgoing compared to Adam, who has a much more negative view of modern society. He’s reclusive, refers to regular humans as zombies and is so disillusioned with modern life that he even considers suicide.

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The two don’t live together and seem worlds apart, yet there’s something that feels really genuine about their relationship. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston have excellent chemistry together, and they really make you believe they’re a couple who have spent hundreds of years in each other’s company.

And yet we never really know much about them. Their past is only ever hinted at, and whilst you could argue this adds to their mystique, it’s also quite frustrating that these intriguing characters ultimately appear rather underdeveloped.

Then there’s the issue of the film’s pacing, and it’s this which is likely to be the sticking point with many. Jim Jarmusch’s films are known for deliberately slow paced and this is very much the case here, focusing much more on the mood of the film rather than its narrative. Only when Eve’s younger sister Ava arrives does it break into a jog, and even though this does up the pace, it still feels a little too lethargic for its own good.

What Jarmusch does do, however, is create an absorbing atmosphere and world in which his characters inhabit. The oneiric cinematography of both Detroit and Tangier, the two locations in which the film is set, has a hypnotic quality mesmerising and really draws you into the film.

Only Lovers Left Alive is not going to appeal to everyone, particularly in its almost comatose pacing. However, it’s sultry, seductive and sexy, and thanks to some mesmerising cinematography and two magnetic central performances there’s plenty to admire if you just sit back and let the whole thing wash over you.

Pros

  • Hypnotic cinematography
  • Interesting take on the vampire story
  • Seductive performances from Hiddleston and Swinton

Cons

  • Pacing just too slow at times
  • Would have been nice to know more about the characters

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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49 thoughts on “Film Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

  1. theipc says:

    I want to see this : )

  2. Ryan says:

    Agree with you on this one completely. It is a bit slow, and could certainly be a turn off for quite a few people but it’s quite enjoyable if you go into it wanting to see some interesting characters who happen to be vampires.

  3. jjames36 says:

    Excellent review. Hopefully I find as much to like once I see it. :-)

  4. sati says:

    “Their past is only ever hinted at, and whilst you could argue this adds to their mystique, it’s also quite frustrating that these intriguing characters ultimately appear rather underdeveloped.” – I completely agree. Swinton made it work because her Eve is more straightforward but Hiddleston really couldn’t do much with such a character, no one could. There was just too many things about Adam that didn’t make sense without proper development and there was barely any development at all.

    • Totally. Both Swinton and Hiddleston were excellent but they were pretty restricted by the script and story. They seemed such interesting characters, I would liked to have seen more about their past. They do seem more mysterious this way, but in a film with such little plot, the characters need to be more fleshed out.

  5. Laura O says:

    Great review. I wish I liked this film, I feel like I’m missing out. I liked all the actors and their performances but there really just wasn’t enough of a story for me, and the slow pace made me physically twichy!

  6. That last paragraph pretty much sums up the film for me as well, except I love the slow pacing :). Tremendous performances by all, especially Hiddleston!

  7. Need to check this one out myself, it sounds deliciously absorbing. I’m also a sucker for encapsulating cinematography. Great review!
    Adam.

  8. Top banana Chris. It’s so great to have Jarmusch back on top form. I feared he’d become a caricature of himself but not so clearly.

  9. Can’t wait to see this film! I sometimes love Jarmusch’s snail-like pacing so I’m interested to see how he goes with this one. Great review. :)

  10. Zoë says:

    Ah, stunning review! This film really is something I would like to see!

  11. Brittani says:

    Great review as always! I’m looking forward to this one. I hope it comes near me soon.

  12. Nice review Chris. I do want to watch this but suspect it’ll be away from the cinema. I like Jarmusch’s films generally and am intrigued by the premise here.

  13. Great review, Chris. Very curious about this one. I’m a huge fan of Tom Hiddleston.

  14. Mr Rumsey says:

    Very very intrigued by this one. I think I’m prepared for a slow narrative now after reading multiple reviews, so hopefully I will enjoy it!

  15. Looks pretty awesome! I like Tom Hiddleston and vampire stories :) Hopefully I’ll get a chance to check this out soon! Great review!

  16. To be honest, Ive never ‘got’ Jarmusch’s films. I’ll give this one a shot when its on DVD and I don’t have to worry about falling asleep!

  17. Mark Walker says:

    Great review Chris. I’m a fan of Jarmusch so I reckon this one will work for me. I must try and catch it soon.

  18. thycriticman says:

    I like the cast, I like the theme, and it looks very well made. On the contrary, it looks like something that can cure insomnia and that is what keeps stalling me from watching it…

  19. thomasjford says:

    You never know what you’re going to get from a Jarmusch movie, but it sounds decent enough.

    • I think you know it’s going to be pretty slow and somewhat thin on action and even story, but he is pretty varied in his work. This is pretty good and a world away from something like Broken Flowers in terms of mood and style.

      • thomasjford says:

        I really liked Broken Flowers, and Mystery Train and Down by Law are two favourite Jarmusch films of mine. I never got Dead Man if I’m honest, and Ghost Dog was only OK.

  20. Nice review. I’m hoping to catch this one soon as the reviews have been largely positive and the premise sounds interesting. It’s a shame that the characters aren’t explored more as it sounds like Swinton and Hiddleston could certainly have pulled it off.

    • Thanks! Yeah it would have been nicer if the characters were explored a little more as they seem so interesting, but I think that’s a deliberate thing that they aren’t to be honest. Hope you get around to checking it out.

  21. Mark Hobin says:

    The cast alone is enough to get me interested. This has a release date of April 11, 2014 in the U.S. Thanks for the heads up. First review I’ve read. Nicely done!

  22. ruth says:

    Awesome review Chris!!! So jealous you got to see this. I might seek it out but it’s not even opening here until mid April and probably only in one theater :(

    Jim Jarmusch is kinda like Wes Anderson in that some ppl might love or hate it because they have such a distinct style. I did like Broken Flowers, the only Jarmusch movie I saw, but I LOVE the cast here and even despite the flaw I’m still keen on seeing it. I’m with you though that I find under-developed characters to be frustrating, even if it adds to the mystery.

    • Thanks Ruth! I totally didn’t realise that the US got this after us. Normally it’s the other way round! I wasn’t a fan of Broken Flowers, although I would be up for revisiting it to see if I liked it more. The underdeveloped characters was an issue for me here, although I’m sure that’s totally intentional on Jarmusch’s part.

  23. Lovely review! Only Lovers Left Alive is far from a masterpiece and can often feel quite dull at times. However, it is an interesting film that brings up some relevant philosophical issues about life and the kind of world we live in. Hiddleston and Swinton work beautifully together portraying an odd, yet compelling couple who have dealt with so much, and conquered it.

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