Let me just say this: Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton were always meant to be vampires. I cannot think of two better suited for this most entrancing tale of well-read, cultured and brooding lovers trying to go about their place in the world. Like the slow jazz and groovy tunes flowing throughout it, this film is a true romance of the heart that, with its softest hum, sits you down and still like the blood does the archaic creatures. With an impressive cast that sink in easily to their roles, Only Lovers Left Alive paints a most seductive picture, one that I could sit and stare at all day.
Setting the mood with a detached swagger is the picture of a sleek record turning on its player, and the alternating images of the lovers, lying back, and in circles with the motion of the record. Adam and Eve have been in love for centuries through their immortal wake, but for some unknown reason are now on opposite sides of the world, Adam in suburban Detroit, and Eve in the magical Tangier. After experiencing and collecting many lifetimes worth of literature, music and science, they are now in a morose and calm place, amidst and indulging in their countless treasures. This is no more a movie about vampires than The Pianist is about the piano itself. I could see this working very well even as a thought-pregnant tale about two junkies. But they would have to be quite the cultured junkies, as these two are, drunk on music and literature from all the ages. In fact, upto the very closing bits, their animalistic nature does never surface, and is not meant to, as it is talking in a different tongue. Eve with her stacks of collector’s edition tomes, and Adam with his musical and scientific memorabilia marking the ages from the romantic middle ages to the magnetic late-nineties, are comfortable with their sustenance and have forgone the thirst to ‘drink’ from the sources. The scarlet water is only sustenance to them, as they have found solace in much deeper pleasures and seductions. It is not exaggerated in its portrayal of these nocturnal souls, who would have naturally grown out of their monstrous manners and high-collared capes. Quite sensible, unlike the sparkling, broad-shouldered hunks of the Twilight franchise.
This movie does indulge in itself a little bit here and there, falling into its allure, but yet not taking away from the experience, which promises to be of a most serene note. Not quite subtle in its symbolism either, Only Lovers Left Alive separates the two lovers Adam and Eve thousands of miles apart, connected to each other by an ‘Apple’ iPhone. At times, the use of the word ‘zombie’ in place of normal mortals seems forced, and if only to press on the fact that they are not normal humans. But it might be appropriate as well, I feel, since the vampires, very few of them, as shown in this film are run over with a feeling of superiority which, while not undeserved, plays out as very egotistic. Their very wry yet sharp tone of voice murmurs to us of the wise, the cultured and the pensive. Earthly mundane things hold no fancy to them, as their interests and minds belong with the stars, pondering the mysteries of the universe. The only people they talk about are the poets, thinkers and musicians of old, who they mingled with during their more social years. Adam talks of how delicious Mary Shelley was, and Eve to this day hangs out with Christopher Marlowe, a walker of the night himself. The movie does play for a bit on the notion that Marlowe was the one who wrote all of the works attributed to Shakespeare, made quite evident by the dartboard that Kit has turned Shakespeare’s portrait to. Although much more subtle, readers of the classics will note the lines that Eve reads on in the airplane to belong to the Sonnets very much attributed to William Shakespeare, but then in a sigh, her saying ‘Marlowe’. The mood of the movie is one that makes you feel at a dinner party with highly learned masters as guests.
Blood sucked straight from the source can turn out to be poisonous, and these vampires prefer sterilized flasks of blood from the hospitals. The atmosphere that most of the movie is set in, the enchanting and intricate goth-house is subset and contrasted with the modern stylings of the hospital where Adam gets his supply from. Adam looks most menacing probably in his pseudo-doctor getup, going by the name ‘Dr. Faust’. Almost never is either Adam or Eve seen to be donning maniacal eyes and a twisted face. Almost everything seems to bore them, them capable of having all their conversations without words. But it is blood and their thirst to sustain themselves that ends up turning them, even if for a very brief time. The serious, sombre Adam, while drowning in his own haunting mood music, is completely void of any immediate thirst, but those few moments where he sips it down from his vial, are truly mesmerizing. These are special moments where it really feels like they are under an addiction for an otherworldly drug, as their heads lean back and fangs baring, stare in ecstasy. And when it comes to pure hunger, we only see that on Adam on two occasions, once when he is starving and is shot a snide comment at by a local, and the other, when in the final moments where the both of them pounce on an unsuspecting couple. The latter is the most conventional vampire trope in the movie, for the rest of the movie, they are too polished and exquisite to be riddled by ‘vampire’, they are poets of the night.
Adam seems to have grown weary and annoyed of the mortals who he refers to as ‘zombies’, after their fantastical and dramatic tryst with them in the dark ages and the holy wars. Adam seems to despise the rock-and-roll culture of those commoners, and prefers to confide within his violet and black nest. The only human he allows a place in his life is Ian, who we see Adam with during the opening sequence. Ian is a supplier of special or peculiar items, things that may catch the fancy of the sharp-eyed and tasteful collector, who has made him sign a contract of confidentiality. It was obvious that this lapdog was one Adam has come to trust and rely on for most of his resources. And when Eve’s rather loud and ‘lively’ sister comes along and drains the guy’s arteries, he has no words except for a poignant ‘You drank Ian.’ This is a response we are unconditioned to, as we have been taught to expect vampires to get easily angered and pounce in a fit of rage, ripping out your sinews and savouring your neck muscles. He is much more a tolerant person now, any fancy or thrill of the hunt lost and with the realization that such responses never achieve much. Speaking of, Eve’s sister Ava is perhaps the most energetic and coloured character in the whole piece. She still is in love with the delights and fast thrills of the world, still with a desire to shake things up. She is every bit careless and immature as Adam perceives her to be, drinking from the source without protection and a bit of a noisy package.
One of the most magical things in the film, the music was just breathtaking and spellbinding. It was a medley of magnetic mood music inspired by various eras, just as Adam’s poetic sounds should be. The mystical notes resemble and set off the image of a couple of nomads, wandering over the world to find their place, so lonely yet steeled against manly emotion, and beating through the moods of the heart. I have to say, this was one of the best OSTs I have heard all year. It perfectly encapsulated the night-time underground blues and gothic soul that they were going for. And Tom and Tilda are just two cool cats, hanging by the corner at the club that Eve’s niece dragged them and Ian to. They seem right in their place sporting shades and long sleeved coats, stoic and cold, but undoubtedly enjoying the music in the air. I cannot stress enough how perfect the casting job was on this one. Both of them are really pale and goth in the first place, with accents that speak of some draconian forgotten tongue. This, with their lanky, faery-like physique made them look the part too. Tom’s sardonic murmur accompanied by Tilda’s dreamy swagger makes for very soothing conversation. Adam and Eve take many trips, seeing the world, and just as we saw Eve shuffling through the pages to read the books again, we see them take a night-time drive, gazing at all the cultural and celestial moments that the place has witnessed. It is in those night drives through Detroit that the fairy tale-like enigma and arcane structures come into sight, again captured in magnificent strange style.
Highly sensual and moody, Only Lovers Left Alive is not a story; it is more a free-verse poem that captures the culture of ages. There is not real plot at hand, no hurdle, no victory; rather it is a ballad or psalm of sorts, which follows the silhouettes of two weary, romantics of the knowledge and culture of humankind. A most delicious morsel, not weighing you down or elevating you, it is definitely something I cannot describe completely with words. The haunting and sombre attitude of the film is true art, and one which encompasses so many styles that we feel a little richer every time we indulge. I cannot think of any major flaw, but will say that it is one to be experienced at the right mood, lest it should leave you restless with its sly, gradual prose.
Also, since I truly loved the OST, here’s a taste: