Only Lovers Left Alive Review [TIFF 2013]

Matt Joseph

Reviewed by:
On September 6, 2013
Last modified:September 6, 2013


Only Lovers Left Alive offers an intelligent twist on the vampire subgenre, even if it does become a bit too moody and mellow for its own good.


Director Jim Jarmusch returns with Only Lovers Left Alive, a surreal, humorous and often beautiful look at the vampire subgenre. In a bit of inspired casting, Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston star as Adam and Eve, the sexiest vampire couple this side of Edward and Bella. Adam is a cynical, reclusive, hate the world kind of musician, who’s been living in Detroit for quite some time. His lover Eve, who’s currently living across the world in Tangier with her friend Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), notices Adam’s ever-growing depression and immediately hops on a flight to Detroit so she can be with him again.

We’re never given a reason for why the sophisticated and refined couple were separated in the first place, but before long they are back together. What plays out next is almost like a small series of episodes, as we watch the two bicker, banter, muse and exchange knowing looks at each other as they navigate through a desolate world almost completely devoid of their own kind and instead populated by what they refer to as zombies, aka humans.

There is no traditional narrative to be found here and it’s certainly one of those films that will have the youngsters up in arms crying out “but nothing ever happened!” all while they anxiously wait for the mellow and languid tone to pick up. Jarmusch has never been the most accessible filmmaker, but even with all that being said, his latest effort may be his most welcoming one yet. It’s still quite artsy, yes, but Jarmusch’s use of the genre helps make it just a bit easier to digest than some of his other movies.

Choosing to put story second, as is usually the case with the director’s films, Only Lovers Left Alive places its heaviest focus on mood and tone, two areas which it executes very well. Jarmusch shoots the film in an almost entrancing way and you’ll likely find yourself lost in the dazzling colour palette, highly stylized cinematography and the unique production design/use of sound. Even if it is all a little bit self-indulgent at times, it’s hard to deny the sheer beauty of Only Lovers Left Alive.

Jarmusch’s script is clever too, with references and nods to everything from science to literature to filmmaking. He doesn’t stop there either. Hidden underneath the surface is a definite social commentary on issues like mortality and humanity’s self-destructive nature. Don’t read too much into it though, Jaramusch is just having a bit of fun here.

Where most will perhaps derive the greatest amount of enjoyment from the film though is in its deadpan humor and dry wit. Swinton takes on most of the comedic duties and her delivery is done with aplomb. She truly does a remarkable job here in the role of Eve. Hiddleston is excellent as well. The two craft a charming chemistry that lends an authenticity to their relationship which really makes you feel like they have a strong level of comfort with one another. Their droll performances are sure to stick out in voters’ minds come awards season and the two actors carry the film wonderfully.

The supporting cast is uniformly fantastic too, with an especially funny turn from Jeffrey Wright and a much needed kickstart from the wild and wacky Mia Wasikowska, who gives the film a bit of energy as it heads into its third act.

Poetic, funny, easy on the eyes and featuring several great performances, Only Lovers Left Alive is a commendable effort from the sometimes iffy director. It doesn’t get everything right, but it does succeed on numerous counts and I think I can safely say that with Only Lovers Left Alive, the director has made what’s become a tired and recycled subgenre, interesting again. And that is a huge win in and of itself.

Only Lovers Left Alive Review

Only Lovers Left Alive offers an intelligent twist on the vampire subgenre, even if it does become a bit too moody and mellow for its own good.