I’m not sure what creates more of a visual- the impossibly romantic 1970s musk that hangs over every frame, or the soundtrack of heavy, grungy guitar/ synth which fill and ensnare the senses. Taking deep, intoxicated breaths of this heady vapour, I was enraptured by the melancholic decadence of these two lovers’ lonely lives; Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston paint portraits of two vampires, lovers, as the title would suggest, who have seemingly been existing solitarily in Tangier and Detroit respectively, yet are very much an inseparable couple.
The first thing that becomes apparent is that time has little to no meaning for these two, except that they must find their daily fix of the purest O-negative. Eve (Swinton) seems a lot more in tune with the progress of life beyond her agelessness- Adam (Hiddleston) seems to struggle more. His entire existence is a time capsule: for the last five hundred years he has gathered dust; an artist in every way to the core, he is enveloped in his music, his creations, and cares for little else. Time is passing and he disregards it almost completely- and is surprised and out of depth when he eventually emerges into the 21st century night to find everything has changed and left him a little bit more behind. He languishes in a run down mansion along with all his musical equipment and instruments, most of them antique, his only visitor an I-Can-Get-You-Anything type called Ian- played endearingly by Anton Yelchin- himself a long haired, velvet wearing, would-be child of the 70s who brings Adam his only contact with society- in the form of vintage guitars. And a wooden bullet.
Is this wooden bullet for himself? His lover? Or is it just a comfort- that one day he might be able to perpetuate at least one instance in time: his death?
Hiddleston has captured that Jim Morrison effect: pale, toned, a little underfed and a little hungover looking, but sensually very appealing to women (and probably some men).
Eve (who calls Adam on an Iphone, while Adam receives it on a 1970s telephone hooked up to a speaker system from the 80s and a television from the 50s, made possible by a laptop from circa 2000) is a great appreciator of art: she reads books in seconds by running a milk-white finger down each page, can put a date on an artefact just by touching it, as if she can sense it’s ageing life force within. She is commanding, proactive, and pragmatic. Swinton plays her with effortless grace, and an ethereal quality which another actor could not have created. She brings to the character a sense of resolution- she is the constant in an evolving world and is quite comfortable with that. She has watched cities burn to cinders and rise again bigger than before and takes it all in as if nature and fate were indecisive children, building and rebuilding fortresses in an endless playground.
Some of the images in this film are true works of art- the kind of compositions that I have always dreamt of creating; the above photograph of Swinton, taken from the opening scene of the film, is like a renaissance depiction of a biblical figure painted up with all the finery of majesty, and surrounded by the knowledge that comes with omnipresence. Swinton, as thousand- year- old Eve, is painted as a goddess.
This is by far the most striking image, and my favourite, as I’m sure it is for most people who watch this film:
What a portrait of Adam and Eve: an artwork of alabaster innocence is what shouts at me from the screen here- not sex. In fact there is not one sex scene in the entire film- it is implied, but what comes across more so, is the undying love these two have for each other- the only other equal that the other has in the universe.
This film makes you want to believe in soulmates.
One of my favourite conspiracies crops up in this film which I had not expected: that Shakespeare was more infamous than famous to his underground contemporaries- and that Christopher Marlowe was in fact the genius behind William Shakespeare’s pages. Where did this rumour originate? I have often wondered. Nevertheless, that Kit Marlowe is somehow now a vampire, living in Tangier, still scribbling away in between throwing darts at William’s portrait, comically comforting to me. And I only love John Hurt more for taking on this role.
Mia Wasikowska as Eve’s little sister is lovable and despicable for all the same reasons at the same time. In love with a life she can’t have, she tries anyway and revels in the power she has over men and over her sister. Like a lit up advert for Topshop, she appears in the lives of the lovers and wedges herself between them, in the way a child might dive into the bed of her parents on Christmas morning obliterating the type of closeness the pair enjoy before. Wasikowska captures youth and recklessness perfectly, and like infectious laughter she leaves a sharp and aching pain in the side of Adam especially.
Only Lovers Left Alive is the telling of a time in a relationship, of a short time in a long life, rather than the telling of a story. In 123 minutes, a blockbuster would have exploded something, over-sexed something else, painted clear heroes and villains, and in turn perhaps lost the reverence this film has for creativity and beauty in its quest to tell a traditional story with a beginning, middle and end.
Please, see it.