Albeit very slowly paced, “Only Lovers Left Alive” may be the most realistic look at the lives of vampires in the 21st century since “Angel.” No magic day rings, no “oh, we live in Seattle where it’s cloudy, so it’s safe”…no nothing to let vampires frolic in the daylight. In “Only Lovers Left Alive,” vampires come out just in the darkness of night, like God and Bram Stoker intended.
Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, “Only LoversLeft Alive” is the story of Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton), a married vampire couple, although living separate lives in different parts of the world. Adam is a musician residing in Detroit. His work is known and revered, even though no one knows who the writer is. Eve is more of a free spirit, currently making her home in Tangiers, where she’s good friends with author, Marlowe (John Hurt)… yes, that Marlowe.
In addition to writing music, which he really doesn’t want anyone to hear, Adam collects guitars and other musical instruments. His chief supplier of these instruments and seemingly only friend is Ian (Anton Yelchin), who doesn’t know Adam is a vampire. One funny aside is Adam referring to humans as zombies, which is confusing at first, but then one realizes he means “us.” Adam is lonely, seemingly tired of living and near suicide. Out of desperation, he calls Eve and she agrees to join him in Detroit. Their joyful reunion is short-lived when Eve’s sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska ), pops in from LA for a visit. It’s that visit turns the couple’s life topsy-turvy.
If there is any actress paler than Swinton, I haven’t seen her. She’s perfectly cast as a vampire. Swinton makes Eve’s joie de vie infectious. Hiddleston is terrific as the moody Adam. It’s hard to say why Eve was drawn to him, but it’s easy to see why he was attracted to her. If anyone can make a vampire seem truly alive, Eve is that “person.” Wasikowska imbues Ava with a delightful sense of fun. One doesn’t normally see this actress in such a care-free role and she carries it off with ease. Barely recognizable underneath all his rocker hair, Yelchin is very good as the movie’s innocent. I have no idea of what Marlowe was like as a human-being, but John Hurt’s scenes with Swinton are fun to watch.
Placing the story in Detroit is sadly all too fitting. At night the city seems very gloomy and the number of abandoned homes and businesses makes the vampire setting perfect.
With all it has going for it, “Only Lovers Left Alive” is one gigantic slog. I struggled to stay awake and that’s a shame. The premise for the film is a good one…in this day and age, what does a vampire do to keep active, stay relevant, and want to live? Nightly kills are no longer necessary because blood can be easily obtained from doctors for a fee. If one doesn’t have a circle of vampire friends like those in “The Vampire Diaries,” what is a vampire to do to keep his or her sanity? Unfortunately “Only Lovers Left Alive” doesn’t explore these issues, so we’re left as bored as Adam. I feel his pain.