Only Lovers Left Alive: Review – Sundance Film Festival 2014

By Meredith Alloway · January 18, 2014

When I first saw the picture of Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston together, sleek in dark sunglasses, I was sold. I then found out they were vampire lovers. My initial excitement feigned; vampires? But upon seeing that Jim Jarmusch was the filmmaker, I understood.  This wasn’t going to be your typical bloodsucker story.

The director, who’s brought us Coffee and Cigarettes and Broken Flowers, returns with a deranged romance. Hiddleston is the depressed, musical genius Adam to Swinton’s sweetly strange Eve. He reads music; she reads books. Somehow they have beau coups of money. Their purpose in life is somewhat opaque, which is no surprise since they’re technically dead. I was happy they weren’t functioning members of society. Their knowledge plagues them, and it’s much more realistic…unlike some other movies we know.

The film is visually stunning. The opening image is of a spinning record player. It turns slowly as the camera looms over Adam and Eve in different rooms. They’re relaxed, in a comatose state, surrounded by novels, guitars, and rich colored cushions. I want to be in this world!

Then the story begins and I remember their lives are actually quite melancholy, loosing its luster fast.  For one, Adam keeps his music anonymous and won’t leave his creepy Detroit mansion. Ian, a doe-eyed kid played by Anton Yelchin, finds Adam brilliant and brings everything he needs right to his doorstep, no questions asked. He takes a chunk of cash in return and has no idea of Adam’s dark secret.

Eve decides to leave Tangier, where she lives, to visit Adam. He’s sad. She comes, they play like any smitten couple would, and we’re sucked into their love.  When Eve’s estranged sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) comes to visit, hell breaks loose. She’s delightful but delusional. As much as Adam and Eve function without giving into the carnal nature of their state, Ava does not.

The movie is slow at times. I began to wonder why these two were interesting to watch other than that they’re attractive and intellectual. But Jarmusch has his own secrets woven into the fabric of the film. There’s modern cultural references that are jarring, but provide much needed humor to the script.  Eve’s best friend is Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt). Yes, the writer. Adam describes scientific philosophies that bring to light the existential ideas that run though the veins of any vampire tale.

I don’t want to spoil too much. The soundtrack will take you to a whole new dimension on it’s own. I walked out of the screening into the Park City sunshine, feeling like I had woken from a dreamy sleep. As I shuffled through the snow, I realized that this film was probably going to haunt me in more ways than I expected.