JDIFF Review – Only Lovers Left Alive


Vampires Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) have been married for centuries. Unable to be together for long, but also to never be truly apart they reunite at Adam’s home in Detroit to rejuvenate one another and celebrate their love. When Eve’s vampire sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) arrives on their doorstep, however, she throws their carefully ordered world into chaos and threatens their very survival. Did you think you’d had enough of vampire films now that the Twilight franchise has come to an end? Director Jim Jarmusch seems to think not and, as it turns out, he is right. Only Lovers Left Alive is a return to vampires as monsters and hermits, with touches of the romanticism of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire thrown in for good measure.

Tom Hiddleston plays Adam as a tortured rock god genius vampire, surrounded by his beautiful instruments, in a house and city that are falling apart, he falls into despair; a romantic despair of course. At first, Swinton seems the more pragmatic of the pair, as Eve’s belief is that vampires such as they endure, but it soon becomes clear that these two characters are dependant on one another and the power constantly shifts in their interactions. Swinton and Hiddleston embody this in their performances, constantly shifting the power, relying on and inspiring one another.

It makes a refreshing change to see Mia Wasikowska play a character who is truly a selfish brat; so used are we to seeing her play old souls. It is clear the actress had great fun with the chance to play a bratty vampire, and she is as engaging as she is (deliberately) annoying. Anton Yelchin does admirably as a human who fawns on the vampires without really understanding why, and John Hurt has a surprisingly funny and affecting part as Marlowe; companion to the vampires throughout their lives.

Jarmusch, Swinton and Hiddleston play with vampire lore, and create new parts of their own; gloves and clothing play a huge part in the film, and serve to underline the fact that these are new creatures, the like of which we have never seen before. Blood, as is always the case with vampire films, is never just blood, this time taking on the euphoric highs and addictive qualities of a high quality but deadly drug. The same can be said, however, for the addictive, but tender expression of Adam and Eve’s love for one another.

Shot in a crumbling city, through a hazy glow, Only Lovers Left Alive almost drips gothic romance; the soundtrack and the characters’ obsession with science only serve to underline this. Jarmusch has created a languid but intense affair that burns slowly but brightly. The pacing may lag a little before Ava arrives, but it is such a joy to spend time with these characters that it hardly seems to matter.

Only Lovers Left Alive is an engaging and intense portrait of love through addiction. Hiddleston and Swinton are not only a wonderful match for one another, but their chemistry and connection is an absolute joy to watch. As uncluttered as Detroit itself, Only Lovers Left Alive is surprisingly funny and affecting, and will have you coming back for more.

Rating: 5/5

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