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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Only Lovers Left Alive movie review: full-blooded

Only Lovers Left Alive green light

I want to live in this movie. I want to crawl inside it and curl up in its lap and stay there forever.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It has been so hard for me to write this review! Normally, when I fall in love with a movie, I want to run right out and tell everyone about it. And, of course, I actually do want everyone to see this movie and buy the soundtrack and preorder the DVD and then go see it again so that the movie Powers That Be get the message that we want more movies like this one, as much as we can say, “This movie that isn’t like any other movie? More movies like this that aren’t like other movies, please.”

It’s only now — more than seven months after my first viewing, at last year’s London Film Festival, and more than four months after my very eagerly awaited second viewing — that I’ve figured out why I’ve been feeling this weird reluctance to talk about the film. I want to live in this movie. I want to crawl inside it and curl up in its lap and stay there forever. And because I’m so in love with vampires Adam and Eve, because I so sympathize with them, I want to protect them, just as they want — and succeed — in secluding themselves from the nasty larger world of the “zombies.” We’re the zombies, we mortal muggles, and we get almost everything absolutely wrong and we mess up the world. They have to stay hidden because we will ruin them. We’d bore them to death, if nothing else.

Only Lovers Left Alive feels like it should be kept a secret. Is there a way to keep a movie a secret and let everyone know about it at the same time? Maybe if we talk about it in whispers…

Jim Jarmusch (Coffee and Cigarettes) wrote this, though it’s so languid that it feels like the story just spontaneously accretes around its characters. And Jarmusch directed it, but it feels so uncoerced that it might be naturally occurring. So the romanticism of vampire mythology that has long since been almost forgotten and is recast here feels old and new at the same time. Vampirism isn’t about sex or danger here, and it’s not a metaphor for disease. There’s something aristocratic in Adam and Eve, as there was in the very first vampires in the literature of the 19th century, but it’s not of a parasitic kind. Instead, it’s a lofty idealism afforded by their immortality. They see a big picture that we zombies don’t. Well, some of us do, and if you’re one of those people who actually enjoys thinking about history and science and art and the future and what it all means, you will love Adam and Eve as much as I do.

Not to disparage other fictional vampires — by which I mean, yes, I wish to disparage them — but you’re more than a century old, and you’re spending your time going to high school over and over again? Adam (best ever Tom Hiddleston: Muppets Most Wanted, Thor: The Dark World) is at least several hundred years old, and he has spent his centuries making music and keeping up with scientific advancements. To Adam, the funeral music of the 17th century — when he references the composer William Lawes, is it just that he was a fan, or was he Lawes himself? — is the same as the rock ’n’ roll of the 1950s is the same as the mournful electric dirges he creates now: music is how he copes with eternity. Not that he’s coping all that well! What is it like to be immortal and also suicidally depressed? Meet Adam.

Eve (best ever Tilda Swinton: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I Am Love) is worried about Adam, her lover of at least a couple of hundred years, so she flies in from Tangier to his Detroit to keep him company: they’ve obviously been apart, though still in regular contact by Skype (of course), for quite a while. (Part of the wonderful mysteriousness of Only Lovers and Adam and Eve is that Jarmusch, even as he is playing with vampire tropes, doesn’t overload us with info about how his vampires live. So it’s left to us to decide whether it’s the endless day-to-day of vampiric immortality that prompted them to live on opposite sides of the planet for a while, or something else that we can’t even begin to guess at. Maybe their love doesn’t demand constant close contact.) She seems to be spending her eternity reading reading reading — I love that she packs nothing but books for her trip — and hanging out with one of the coolest immortals a reader could ever hope for as a friend, Christopher Marlowe. (More delicious mystery: immortal vampire Marlowe is played by John Hurt [Doctor Who, Immortals], who appears quite a bit older than the 29 that Marlowe was when he supposedly died. Which suggests that Marlowe faked his death, for some reason, decades before he was turned! There’s gotta be a great story there. Jarmusch, the tease, completely ignores it.)

There’s so much slyly funny stuff here, in how Adam acquires the blood he needs to consume; in the cryptic little chores he assigns to his mortal rock-dude helper, Ian (Anton Yelchin: The Smurfs 2, Star Trek Into Darkness); in Eve’s coolly philosophical approach to life, the universe, and everything; in the arrival of her bratty vampire “sister,” Ava (Mia Wasikowska: Tracks, The Double) to shake up their communion. And there’s arty punky angst galore to speak to all manner of mortal misfits. You can rage with Adam at the narrowmindedness of the world: we zombies “fear” our “own fucking imaginations,” he rants. (He’s right! The juxtaposition of the casual wild fancy of this movie next to standard Hollywood fare proves it.) You can adopt a phlegmatic long view to the horrors before your eyes, as Eve does when she notes about nearly dead Detroit, Adam’s “wilderness,” that “when the cities in the South are burning, this place will bloom.” (She’s right! Someone check and see if vampires are buying up apparently worthless real estate in Detroit.)

This is a moody fantasy love story, and it is mostly about mood. There’s barely even any of the blood and gore you’d expect from a vampire tale. And there’s way more lush succulence — emotionally and visually — for you to, well, sink your teeth into. I wouldn’t have called myself a particular fan of vampires before this, but now I see that’s probably because none of them have been as completely fascinating as Adam and Eve.

first viewed during the 57th BFI London Film Festival

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Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)
US/Can release: Apr 11 2014
UK/Ire release: Feb 21 2014

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated UAFOL (undead and full of life)
MPAA: rated R for language and brief nudity
BBFC: rated 15 (contains strong language)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Danielm80

    Not to disparage other fictional vampires — by which I mean, yes, I wish
    to disparage them — but you’re more than a century old, and you’re
    spending your time going to high school over and over again?

    A lot of people have recurring dreams where they keep going back to high school. I wonder if that accounts for some of the popularity of Twilight with older audiences.

  • LaSargenta

    I’ve been wanting to see this. It is playing at the Sunshine. I think I’ll take the pixie this weekend.

  • cinderkeys

    Man, is that ever not a dream I’d pay to experience in theaters.

  • haha. Whenever you’ve referred to “the pixie” I think of a little kid. Obviously, considering the rating and content of this movie, your “pixie” isn’t actually a little kid. I’m curious now. How old is “the pixie”?

  • LaSargenta

    Well, I’m his Ma. He’ll always be my pixie. But, now he’s 12, plays Personal Jesus on bass and sings lead, is a goaltender in ice hockey who makes glove saves and would have a fit if I called him ‘pixie’ in public.

  • RogerBW

    I’ve been looking forward to this. From what I’ve heard, not so much “pretentious” as “what pretentiousness is trying to imitate”.

    This film should be made available for home viewing on the original kinetoscope plus wax cylinders. I don’t care how.

  • not so much “pretentious” as “what pretentiousness is trying to imitate”.

    Heh. That is a *perfect* description of the film.

  • Interesting. My son is 13, quite smart and mature, but I still don’t let him watch R movies. I suppose I might, but it depends upon the subject of the movie.
    We’re totally going to see Godzilla this weekend, but that’s only PG-13.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I would.

  • Jennifer Merin

    I LOVE this review, MaryAnn….and soooooo agree with you. Thanks!!!

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Neither would I with my 14 year old. But, in that case only because there are precious few R rated movies that are thematically interesting to her. The summer movie she’s most looking forward to is “How to Train Your Dragon 2”. Right now, that dear girl would happily spend her life as a 10 year old boy.

  • LaSargenta

    Depends on the movie. Some movies, I don’t understand why they get an R and others I don’t know why they are acceptable for a PG-13 rating. Like some years ago, I (after watching an academy screener copy with a friend who gets that kind of thing) took him to see Happy Go Lucky. If that film deserved an R, then our home deserves an X rating. He was (obviously) a whole lot younger at the time, but enjoyed the movie. Around the same time, there was GI Joe, Rise of Cobra with a PG-13…filled with plastic violence and weirdly subliminated sexual shit. I would have preferred to let him watch Midnight Cowboy or Cruising than that p.o.s.

    He also wants to see Godzilla. He’s welcome to. I have no interest. There was a “modern” one recently, and I saw Gojira and Godzilla vs. Mothra and some others. This will be playing for a while in loads and loads of theaters. It will stream in a bit. The less-well-known things get a smaller and often shorter release. I see part of my job with respect to parenting as a Cicerone to things he might otherwise not encounter. My parents did it for me.

    So, This weekend — if we manage it — is chock-a-block with stuff. After band practice, there’s she Done Him Wrong at Anthology Film as part of the On the Bowery film Series, tomorrow Only Lovers Left Alive in the earlier part of the day, and I had bought him tix for Eddie Izzard at the Beacon for his birthday. Sunday, we have a Symposium for the chamber music society I belong to: Jacobson (violin), Seltzer (cello), Lenti (theorbo) and Poletaev (harpsichord) playing Corelli, Vivaldi and Tartini. If we have the energy and ‘las ganas’, Maybe we’ll squeeze in a visit over to Bklyn for a set or two (mid-day) of the Black and Blue Bowl. I have long taken the “all ages” thing seriously w.r.t. punk/hardcore and take my kid. When he was smaller, the bands often had him (and other little kids) on stage with them so he could see. (I’m always in the ‘pit.)

    There’s also the Dance Parade and the Ukrainian Festival. Hope the weather’s good!

  • LaSargenta

    Hey! I’m looking forward to that, too! (Possibly more than the pixie.)

  • Yeah, my son and I both loved HTTYD, so the sequel is definitely on both our radars. Thing is, the trailer looks pretty bad to me. Like they’re just repeating stuff from the first one because they don’t know what else to do. I hope the movie turns out far better.

  • oooooooooooooookay? haha You lost me pretty quick there. My son would look at me like I’m nuts if tried to get him into all that stuff.
    Funny thing is, we feel like we are doings for him that few other parents seem to do. Like constantly talking about science, and learning about the natural world. Every night before bed we go over new scientific discoveries(last nights was that the current most popular banana type, Cavendish, is under threat of extinction : http://news.msn.com/science-technology/is-it-time-to-say-bye-bye-to-the-banana).
    I’m a Horticulurist, and avid gardener, and have taught him as much as I possibly can about all of it. He respects nature like no 13 year old I’ve ever encountered.
    I’m not sure I want to hoist all my weird movie loves on him quite yet, though. He’s at that age where adventure and mayhem take center stage. he loves the Hobbit films(I don’t), superhero movies, and giant monster movies like last years Pacific Rim. He knows they’re ridiculous, and that’s the fun of it. I enjoy them, too, and I know a lot more than he does.
    All about balance, right? Sounds like you’re also raising a pretty awesome kid.

  • It’s ridiculous that this film is rated R. There’s nothing here that even an immature 13-year-old hasn’t seen in PG-13 movies.

  • LaSargenta

    Cool! Horticulture! That’s great…and good to get into it young.

    Ya know, what I think is important about exposing children to the world — it’s to make sure we let them know what excites us, show them why it excites us, give them access to places they can discover things for themselves, take an interest in what they get excited about and go from there. I don’t agree with the idea of categories of ‘kid’s stuff’ and ‘not kid’s stuff’. My kid likes music. Has responded emotionally and vividly to music since he was a baby (although he is no prodigy with an instrument). So, fortunately, I’m eclectic in my musical tastes and just what we’ve got at home is a good place for him to ‘discover’ things. When he was 8, he learned Sunshine of Your Love. When he was 10, he finally asked me what the words meant. I explained it and he decided to stop singing it, although he will still play it. But, he’s a Bowie and Depeche Mode fan, too, so, I dunno where he draws that line. O_o He really liked Placebo for a while and then started understanding more of their lyrics…so he gave me all the cds…”Mama, I think you’d like these more than I do right now.” But, we can do an awesome row-row-row-the-boat with jazz riffs on drives in the car. and the Clearwater Revival Music Festival is an Annual Special Occasion for us…having him that weekend was written into the divorce agreement!

    I’d like to have the time to be an avid gardener. We do belong to a community garden, though, and I’m known as the stealth pruner…the ivy over the fence is kept sensible by me. That and weeding and compost. That’s what we go there to do.

  • LaSargenta

    PS: add a space after the URL before the close-parenthesis. the link is a little wonky otherwise. Yeah, …the poor banana, like the papaya. And so much else. I know several beekeepers…

  • Bluejay

    Yeah, yeah, you’re all great parents, and your kids are awesome.

    Now let’s talk about something that’s super-important and relevant to this film, which is THE REALITY OF GLOBAL WARMING!


  • LaSargenta

    Hey! Why don’t you join us at the Sunshine?

  • Danielm80

    The REALITY is that it was SCIENTISTS who MANUFACTURED GloBULL Warming. They wanted to cover up the fact that they had created a giant lizard. These are the same scientists who created metaphors. Just try to prove that they didn’t. You can’t.

  • Danielm80

    One of these days, all the New Yorkers who post on this site should get together and see a movie. And then argue about it.

  • Bluejay

    You should get it into your THICK SKULL that I’m right and you’re not. And NO, you can’t tell me not to talk like that. I’ll talk however I want and you can’t stop me! Who are you, the Internet Hitler?

  • Bluejay

    And give up my precious anonymity? ;-)

    But seriously: thanks for the invite, but I don’t think the film is my family’s cup of tea, and we may have other plans shaping up this weekend. (I’m trying to convince them to see Belle.) Have fun, though!

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Well it won’t be the first time the most popular banana was killed off by disease.

  • Yeah, I even thought of that, which is why the front of the link was spaced correctly. I just forgot to fix the end of it. Thanks. Edited.

  • That’s good to know. This still doesn’t seem like the type of movie I want to watch with him, though. My wife, on the other hand, who is HUGE on vampires and such, may want to partake. Thanks.

  • LaSargenta

    As the Internet’s Lucretia Borgia, I can tell you that *I* created metaphors. And similes (although I refuse credit for Simile).

  • LaSargenta

    Who do you think you are? Alec Baldwin? Jay-Z? And you’ve got a lot of gall thinking we couldn’t be discrete! See if I ever argue with you again!

  • LaSargenta

    Excellent idea!

    And then food and drink.

    But, please, can it not be a blockbuster? After seeing Winter Soldier — which I really really enjoyed and went to twice — I’m blockbustered-out.

  • Tonio Kruger

    That explains why so many Buffy fans prefer the first three seasons of the show — when the title character was still in high school — than the last four, which took place after she graduated. Indeed, I often suspect that the show could have ran for years if the producers had ever figured out a way to keep her in high school forever.

  • LaSargenta

    I would pay to NOT see it!

  • Bluejay

    There is so much good stuff out right now. Including theater.

    Don’t even get me started. :-)

  • Bluejay

    They could make a Twilight prequel TV series, about Edward Cullen attending centuries of high school in different eras, before he meets Bella. Edward in a Victorian boarding school! Edward in a one-room schoolhouse on the Western frontier! Edward all Travolta’d up in the Fifties! etc.

    Oh no! I’ve posted this and can’t delete! Some producer will read it and think it’s a good idea! And now I’m being dragged off to hell by the shadow-thingies from Ghost… Help me, Patrick Swayze! Help me! Noooaaaarrrrgh…

  • LaSargenta


  • Danielm80

    Let’s pick a non-blockbuster that’s coming out in June or July and work from there. I’d like to see the new Zach Braff movie, but I’m afraid it may be too cloying for most people.

  • LaSargenta

    Bluejay’ll diss us.

  • Bluejay

    Aw, c’mon! :-(

    Thing is, on the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog (or at least a rather shy person who’s probably somewhat less interesting than his online persona). But you can shoot me an email at my blog and, if scheduling works out, I think it’d be nice to hang out. :-)

  • Hillary Frasier Hays

    Oh, how sublime, your review of this film. It is exactly how I feel, even before I saw it. Some of my comments on Facebook regarding ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ are thus:

    “It is time again to post photographs of Tom and Tilda and Adam and Eve…for they are where I go when here is too flat and too scarce and too hollow. Although I think I’ve almost lost my mind. For Only Lovers Left Alive is always the last thing I see in the dark before I go to sleep.”

    “Oh, sweet Adam and Eve (Tom and Tilda) gracing one more picture from Only Lovers Left Alive. I am still wildly in love with this film and I haven’t even gotten to see it yet. I guess ‘Only Lovers’ makes me forget for a while how alone I am. And forget that I have been the sole and unapologetic architect of my aloneness.”

    “Here is one more sublime photograph of Eve and Adam which I’ll post just to warm my heart on this otherwise cold and empty day. It’s no secret that I’ve lately been more than a bit obsessed with these two phenomenal souls even though I’ve yet to see the new Jim Jarmusch film in which they star. The truth is that I wish I was them. Both of them. Because I can’t see them at all apart from one another. You know how women have celebrity crushes on the guy and guys have celebrity crushes on the girl. I can’t do that with Eve and Adam. I adore them both. They are inseparable in my mind and heart. I don’t want to be like them. I want to BE them. Just another in a long series of flights (each resulting in pitiable crash landings) of fancy that do me no good and end in nothing.”

    I finally got to see the film tonight! Cinematic Heaven it is. I can’t stop experiencing what I saw and heard and felt – feral, mythical, as if consuming all that is remaining of me. So very strange. I guess I’m more empathic than most souls. But to be with this film somehow feels like falling in love.”

    “Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston. They are just so immaculately, potently, perfectly beautiful together. And yes I am still obsessed with the two of them and with the new Jim Jarmusch film they’re in called Only Lovers Left Alive. I haven’t been this thrilled about a movie for the past 20 years, not since ‘Damage’ with Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche came forth..”

    “Don’t shoot me, and please, Heaven help me, but this luscious photograph of Adam somehow reminds me of Jesus. Somehow like the body and the blood of Christ imparted during Communion methinks. If that is not too sacrilegious. Which it well may be. But I am so obsessed with this film — so be it then.

    Oh Adam, with his beloved, preternaturally stunning, and equally enraptured vampiress, Eve, together immersed in their ages-old, exquisitely excruciating ache of absolute Oneness. The director, Jim Jarmusch, has got to be the most gorgeously gifted filmmakers of all time…”

    So indeed, yes, I might just fathom the wholeness of your being with this film. I’m quite sure I’ve never experienced this absolute adoration, this primal, desperate, famished, wincing love for a movie – love, a word that feels so paltry and weak when held up beside ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’. I think I’m going to cry now. Cry, like you, for sumptuously craving to curl up inside this film to never again emerge…

    Hillary Frasier Hays

  • LaSargenta

    Alright. I have to see that again!

  • Danielm80

    Should we move this discussion to e-mail, or would it make more sense to suggest movie choices here?

  • I think it might be best to take this off the site. :->

  • Bluejay

    You can reach me via the email listed on my blog’s “about” page, if you want. LaSargenta already has. :-)

  • Ollive

    Oh this is a splendid review, thank you so much. After seeing and hearing comments about the inconsistency of the story-line or the fact that “pff this film looks like a wannabe pretencious”, your review remained me about how much I really like this piece of art. I should never forget that.. but.. you know.. the zombies..hahah :))))

  • Jurgan

    I kind of think the show had legs because the characters grow with the audience. Teenagers who grow up and go to college/ “the real world” would have gotten bored watching the perpetual cycle of someone in high school. I admire that they had the courage to change the show as they went on. They did kind of have her return to high school in season 7, as a counselor.

  • Tonio Kruger

    No worries.

  • Anne-Kari

    Hmmmmmmmm. I finally – FINALLY – had the chance to see this movie, after wanting to for what, 2 years? And perhaps I was way too hyped up to see it but in some ways, it disappointed. Not major ways, certainly not enough to warrant some kind of ‘thumbs down’ from me, but still….

    OK I’ll just point out one nitpicky kind of plot point BUT FIRST – HERE BE SPOILERS, STOP READING NOW IF YOU’VE NOT SEEN THE FILM AND WISH NOT TO BE SPOILED ON THIS ——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————– So here it is:

    I really had a hard time with Adam and Eve leaving Ava alone, near dawn, with Ian. They MUST have known what would happen – indeed, after Ava drains Ian, Eve says to her “How many times does this have to happen” or something that ilk. I mean, COME ON, that night when they were leaving them alone, how could they NOT assume that this asshole little sister was going to do something totally stupid and deadly? The situation stretched credulity in terms of these characters who totally would have known better – and would have done some damn thing to prevent it.

    Another thing, much less specific: I feel cheated. I feel like this would have been great as a three-part miniseries on IFC or something. It needed more time to tell more of the story, there’s so much rich stuff here that could have been explored.

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