This review originally appeared on Shelf Heroes.
Starring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as Adam and Eve, a bohemian couple separated by two cities (Detroit and Tangier), ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ is constructed in opposites of light and dark, the most striking feature of which is that they are both vampires living their immortal lives adrift in a world of humans. Adam has a brooding existence in the wreck that is Detroit, surrounded by antique instruments and photographs of his scientific and literary heroes. Weary of his endless life, it’s the perpetual decline of the human race (or “zombies”) that causes him most pain, seeing them destroy everything around them again and again and failing to embrace beauty and imagination. The older (by a few thousand years) Eve has seen it all before and attempts to keep his spirits up, but the impending presence of her feisty younger sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) threatens to throw their lives into turmoil.
This is a film of real passion and burning originality, taking the mythology of vampires and the idea of immortality as its base to make an eloquent, intelligent statement about culture and species. Far from heavy-handed, this sentiment is seamlessly woven into the touching love story of Adam and Eve. Aside from a few blunt statements it doesn’t ever become preachy, telling its story with enough ambiguity and imagination that it can be embraced in several different ways. Aged, fraying artefacts line every shot and, accentuated by the perpetual darkness (it wouldn’t be much of a vampire story if it took place in daylight), the experience is an incredibly tactile one. You can almost feel and smell Adam’s musky room, and in fact the whole film is a deeply sensual one, with interludes lingering on his musical compositions or old Blues records, the intoxicating taste of blood, the beautifully designed sight of the cluttered, overflowing ephemera and sleek guitars. This all culminates in a powerfully seductive atmosphere that entrances from the first hallucinogenic shot to the last. Hiddleston and Swinton are absolutely sensational, two actors on the very top of their game. Finding a glorious rhythm in the lyrical dialogue they fashion a smouldering chemistry with little more than their shared presence. They are impressive in capturing a believable air of immortality, appearing to hold several lifetimes of knowledge and experience behind their wise eyes. Equally impressive support from Wasikowska, John Hurt and Anton Yelchin keep the narrative ticking over, but just being stranded in this brief moment in the long, long lives of Adam and Eve is the film’s real pleasure. An atmospheric work of dark beauty and biting wit, ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ is a glorious piece of ideas-led filmmaking. As compelling as it is transcendental, the characters and their eternal reality is so exquisitely drawn that becoming absorbed in their lives is an inescapable, tangible pleasure.