Film Review: Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Writer and Director Jim Jarmusch has made a film about love. All kinds of love. Romantic, platonic, idol, familial, eternal. Love for the places and things that feed our soul. That is one of the ways OLLA is like a rock ballad-a mighty snapshot of the things that make life worth living. OLLA follows two married vampires, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton). Theirs is an immortal love, they are rock stars living in a bygone era with the modern world existing just outside their bubble. Adam is without hope, bowed down by technology, the predictability of humans (or ‘zombies’ as he calls us), and a lack of inspired art. His wife Eve is the ultimate cool cat, embracing life, living for love and full of hope. She is the level head in the relationship, talking Adam down from the proverbial ledge, which is where the film takes off.

Adam is described by Eve’s friend Kit Marlowe (John Hurt), the supposed true author of Shakespeare’s works, as a ‘suicidally romantic scoundrel’. He lives a solitary life in Detroit pining for Eve, who lives among her books and the exotic antiquity of Tangier with Kit for company. All the while Adam releases his music anonymously in the underground scene to great aplomb. He loves his town, the only immediately accessible thing aside from music that provides him with comfort. His melancholy brings him to the precipice of suicide. Through their contact Eve recognises that Adam needs her so she joins him in Detroit, soothing the worst of his pain. Swinton is sublimely cool and graceful- one can suppose she isn’t that much different to Eve, enjoying the moment but in control of the situation. Hiddleston is electric and captivating, dispensing his dry wit behind a mask of contempt. Adam disdains humans, yet the comedy of his situation is that his very existence depends on them.

This is highlighted by Adam’s reliance on both his dealer and fan-turned-assistant, Doctor Watson (Jeffery Wright) and Ian (Anton Yelchin). Doctor Watson works in a hospital lab. He earns extra money by supplying Adam type o- blood without asking too many questions. Twice Adam appears behind Watson noiselessly in a white doctor’s coat and surgical mask, each time going by the name Doctor Faust and Doctor Caligary. As suggested by the use of fake names, their transactions are fraught with mystery, tension and wonder but you know each will be open to trade again. Our vampires take the risk of using blood from a supplier aiming to avoid anything that may be lethally contaminated if they drink directly from humans. Blood in OLLA is clearly an allegory for drugs. In keeping with the rock and roll ethos, blood, particularly type o-negative, is consumed with reverence and need, not just as an indulgence.

Then there’s Ian, a fan of Adam’s underground music, he idolises Adam and procures any manner of worldly goods that Adam desires. Of course, the more he’s with Adam, the greater his curiosity grows, much to Adam’s dismay. An irritating reminder that there are few beings in the world he can trust and that the ground is quickly shrinking beneath his feet. Adding to his misery is Ava (Mia Wasikowska), Eve’s younger sister. Ava is a whirlwind of drama. Impetuous, playful and the centre of attention. She behaves like a nineteen year old not a centuries old immortal. She, along with the rest of humanity, is the bane of Adam’s existence. Wasikowska is a vivacious injection of life, a contrast against the philosophical stillness of the film. Out of familial obligation, Adam and Eve invariably find themselves cleaning up after her spectacular mistakes, and on this occasion also fleeing from them.

Only Lovers Left Alive is my first Jarmusch film or experience I should say. Poetic and philosophical, it is a meditation on the finer things in life: love, music, literature. Like Adam and Eve, you could exist in this nightscape forever. As if you were a part of something the rest of the world wasn’t. A rare event that only a few other eyes would see. It’s not something that you can capture but only experience. I believe that every film aspires to be an experience but bowed down by contrived formulae, mainstream cinema often falls short. Thankfully we have independent filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch. This film also reminds me of the collaborations between Australian musician and screenwriter Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat. Music and aesthetic are major components of the film. This is as true of OLLA, favouring these elements more so than plot. Things happen in this film but there is no exact beginning, middle and end to it. It’s as I mentioned earlier, a snapshot of our lover’s lives. The highs and lows that we witness are their burden that they are doomed to repeat for the rest of their lives. They will endure it however because they have each other and that is the beauty of love.

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