Only Lover Left Alive is a film for people who love film. By that, I mean it has clever writing and dialogue and is shot with a style that reminds the viewer how a film can be art and beautiful and not just big explosions. Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, it’s filled with symbolism: of light and dark, of good and evil, of using your time wisely, both literally and figuratively. The movie is a drama, but it has some surprisingly funny moments strewn throughout it.
Representing darkness is Adam (Tom Hiddleston), a centuries old vampire with long black hair who spends the majority of the film in black or dark colors. He has been writing and recording music, including famous pieces that have been credited to other musicians – because that’s the way he wanted it. He wants the work out there, but not the attention that goes with it. He feels the pain of living acutely, and feels the waste that many make of their lives in an almost personal way.
Adam is darkness personified, a recluse who has given up on humanity, demonstrated by his living in the mostly deserted post-recession Detroit, which reflects Adam’s internal feelings with it’s empty buildings and graffiti covered walls. Along with his disappointment in the human race and their seeming lack of ability to notice and appreciate the brilliant and beautiful, Adam has given up on life itself, to the point that he orders a wooden bullet from Ian, a human who acts as his go-between with the world. Even though he is suicidal, Adam isn’t quite gone, and he aims the gun, loaded, at his chest and makes the sound effect to mimic it going off, but never actually pulls the trigger. Before he has a chance to rethink it, we meet…
Eve (Tilda Swinton), his wife (symbolism!) who represents light, living on the other side of the world, in Tangier, where she spends her time with her friend Christopher Marlowe. She is an even older vampire with long white hair who spends the majority of the film in white or light colored clothing. Eve is concerned about Adam and his reclusive ways, causing her to fly from Tangier to Detroit, where Adam has shut himself in. Upon Eve’s arrival, he tells her, “I just feel like all the sand is at the bottom of the hourglass or something.”
The vampires spend much of the movie listening to music and appreciating it, dancing in one particularly beautiful scene. Eve reminds Adam of the beauty that can be found in life if you look among the ruins and she gets him to dance again as they celebrate the joys of being alive in the brief moments before it’s shattered by the arrival of Ava, Eve’s young sister, another vampire who acts very childlike.
After her arrival, chaos ensues, aggravated by the fact that much of the human race has been tainted with disease, making their blood unsuitable for the vampires to consume.
Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are both perfect in their roles, their physicality adding to the visual element of the film, with both of them tall and thin, opposite colors, darkness and light. Their performances and the great dialogue are what carry the film, which is light on plot, something that does not detract from it at all, as the characters as they are created are interesting enough to watch just doing (almost) everyday things. By the end of the film, you wish you were as cool as these characters.
Official Movie Clip