Disclaimers are important I think, and perhaps never more so when writing about vampire movies. Personally, I enjoy them a lot, and have followed the vampire as a character, phenomenon and monster through half my life.
Vampires are more associated with sparkling, emo six-packs these days, but the vampires of Only Lovers Left Alive have much more in common with Anne Rice’s old pantheon of characters than Meyer’s more recent “evolution”. These are vampires who interacted with history, with the great writers, scientists and painters. Their endless, and sometimes tedious lives, punctuated by some cultural or scientific genius who can keep their attention for a few more decades.
Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play the two lovers, Adam and Eve. Adam is sick of eternity, and feels suicidal. He is not a tragic character, however, because he is so hypocritical and disagreeable. Humans are “zombies” to them, but they live for our – the zombies’ – cultural output over the centuries. Adam repeatedly says he has no heroes, only a gallery of “zombies” he deems worthy to frame on his wall. From Newton, Oscar Wilde and Buster Keaton, every picture and knickknack in his home tells a story that could fill a movie. With a throwaway line about Mary Wollstonecraft’s deliciousness, he throws away a whole plot. He hates us, yet he plays our instruments, and of course, drinks our blood.
The film is not trying to tell those hinted-at stories, however, because it is a slow, meandering glimpse into these two at a point of where they may or may not give up on eternity. Despite the lethargic plot and characters, welcome particularly after a long hot day, one can not help but wonder at all those knickknacks, and if just one of those stories might have been more pressing to tell.
It is important to stress that while everyone plays it straight, the audience doesn’t have to take it seriously. There is a lot of humour in it, especially for a fan of all types of vampires. When Adam and Co. sit in a darkened club with sunglasses, it can not be anything but ridiculous. He is definitely a vampire-hipster, and that is both funny and interesting, and I like to think that’s what the movie intended.
Only Lovers Left Alive is not a brilliant piece of cinema, even for the vampire-genre, but it does ask a good “what if” – what if you were cursed to walk the earth for centuries. It’s the same sort of question you answer when someone asks what you would do if you were stuck in a groundhog day loop. Read every novel, play every instrument, become cynical thanks to humanity, or embrace its potential? Adam and Eve represent the two extremes of this scenario.
For vampire fans – and perhaps especially for those introduced to the genre through Anne Rice – this film is a lovely, slow and amusing pause between Twilights’ melodrama and the gratuitous pseudo-porn of True Blood. Someone thought the vampire-idea deserved a different treatment on screen again, and I for one am extremely glad this was done, and that Hiddleston and Swindon gave it their absolute best.