I watched “Only Lovers Left Alive” over the weekend. It was hilarious. I’m still chuckling about it. So clever. Why? Because it’s not until the very last scene that you get the joke of the ENTIRE movie.
There will be spoilers, but there’s not much plot to spoil, so eh. I will reveal the ending, but it might help you enjoy the film. Caveat emptor, cave canem, et cetera. Yes, that was a Latin joke. You’re welcome.
I heard about this movie because I’m currently tracking a lot of vampire things for research for my book, and also, any time I hear the name Tilda Swinton, my ears perk up. Oh yes, and being on Tumblr means that every third post mentions Tom Hiddleston…with gifs. But I want gifs with flames. OMG, that was such a bad joke.
First of all, let me say I love Tilda Swinton. Love her. Have loved her since I saw her in Orlando. She has this laser sharp talent that is so powerfully trained that she simply inhabits every character without remorse or concession to the viewer. She takes the vampire Eve from mystical Madonna to clingy girlfriend (in a dignified, mystical way) without missing a beat or breaking your suspension of belief.
Tom Hiddleston keeps up with Tilda beautifully, which is such a relief. A lesser Adam would have totally ruined the film. He wields his voice like an instrument from laconic and slangy to hints of the ancient lord within a single sentence. He walks a super fine line between amusing us with the every-so-slightly self-aware irony (see the abandoned theater scene) to revealing the true pathos of his character in unguarded moments like when he is fixing the generator and shows us what an incredibly excited, talented, scientific mind lives in that head.
Mia Wasikowska was exactly what she needed to be: a deft counterpoint that we remember after the end of the movie as one of the things that highlights the hypocrisy of Adam and Eve. Then, and only then, do you look back and understand that there is so much more that is beautiful and broken beneath Ava’s brash, bratty persona.
Ian the character exists solely for the purpose of providing Tom Hiddleston with the line, “You drank Ian.” For a moment, he is every father and/or dog owner who comes home to the mildly catastrophic consequences of disobedience and now has to get out the wet wipes and/or vacuum. That line totally makes Ian worth it.
There’s nothing much you can say about John Hurt except that you are privileged to watch yet another performance by him. The man is a morph master in that you never recognize him from film to film. Somehow, he simply changes his innate appearance to be whatever character he is. It’s not just makeup and wigs. It’s like he rearranges his face.
The Christopher Marlowe thing was a bit random, but eh, random is fine in this movie. It doesn’t detract, even if I felt it didn’t add much. It didn’t really enrich Eve’s relationship with him (though yes, I get it, she loves books and words and probably turned him to keep his genius alive, etc). Eve’s relationship with him smells faintly but more importantly of the brave, independent daughter’s still needing the reassurance of her father’s Rock of Gibralter presence and surety. That’s what touches you in the end when he (SPOILER) dies.
Adam and Eve are delightfully, blissfully pretentious, and I’m still debating with myself whether they are aware of their hypocrisy or not. They are so cerebral and existentially aware of the fine agonies of existence that they seem like that awful couple you sometimes sit next to at Sunday brunch where they discuss the latest work of some Polish literary genius and worse, refer back to his previous works to outline the growth of his dark post-modernist views on medical science.
You get glimpses of real, practical people underneath the facade every now and then, and that’s what makes these characters so funny. There are just slips of moments when you catch what Eve must have been like as a mortal young woman: lively, enterprising, pragmatic, determined, but maybe not so educated as she is now. Adam might have been an angry young man, trained in warfare but with a heart for tinkering and music.
Those personas peek through in hilarious moments, such as when they are throwing Ian into the sludge. They don’t even have to say it out loud, but they know that they always count to three together when they swing a body into the depths. They have done this before. The chess game was also well done, and the wife plays her husband perfectly, just like we all do sometimes, and he takes his loss to his wife just like a man…by blaming her.
Can we stop for a moment and just have some appreciation for the guy in the blood lab? Dr. “Watson”? His scenes are among my favorites. He play out the fear, the suspicion and the fact he realizes they are in a Mexican standoff perfectly. I laughed out loud for this guy. Brilliant.
The movie is slow. Sooooo slow. Like get up, microwave popcorn, come back, and still be on the same conversation slow. Then I realized, that’s the point. We’re watching time pass from the point of view of immortals. When all you have is time, it passes with a painful slowness. Every moment stretches out, and somehow, you have to think your way through to the next moment. The lightbulb went off for me during the scene where Adam is watching the singer in the cafe. He (and we) watch the whole thing because he has nothing but time to watch the whole thing. Ah, so now we get a taste of the agony of eternity. Got it.
The zombie joke is kind of like the Christopher Marlowe joke. Fine. I get it. Doesn’t do much one way or another. Yes, I see the irony that Adam and Eve are zombies in the end, stumbling blindly in search of blood. Check.
The biggest punchline and best joke of the movie is the ending. Of course, Eve would speak in French right before she kills. Of course, they’d be clinging to the shreds of intellectualism with entanglement as they go from refined immortals to workaday predators. In the end, they’re no better than us, no better than human, no better than mortal. In the end, they’re animals, monsters, and true to their nature.
In the end, they prove that even animals can love.