I was waiting to write my thoughts about this movie in the hopes I’d get to weasel my way into another showing of it sometime this week, but that didn’t happen. So I’m sad it’s not longer fresh on my mind, but the film made such a vivid impression that I still have so many thoughts and feelings about it.
The two things you hear most often about Only Lovers Left Alive is that it’s much funnier than expected, and that it’s a story about something (love and art being the most commonly cited) that just so happens to have vampires as characters. Both of these things are very true. The movie is actually very funny, if in the subtle, often very dry way that is my absolute favorite. Just the scenes with Adam (in his Dr. Faust nametag) and Dr. Watson at the hospital are lovely.
The love seen in this movie isn’t the sort normally glorified on film. It’s not first love or love in crisis, where the very story is driven by the question of if this love will survive the plot. Rather, the crisis of the movie is the survival of Adam and Eve themselves, and the love they share is part of what will sustain them and keep them alive. Their love for each other doesn’t require constant contact, has passion without being obsessive, is between equals, and supports rather than conflicts. It’s love that feeds the people who feel it, rather than love that needs to be fed.
So that was intensely refreshing, as a reminder that love is supposed to be something that strengthens and supports us rather than a source of endless (if entertaining) drama.
The other part of the love seen in the movie is the passion for art. Feeding of the soul rather than the body, I suppose. The character of Eve is a lover of literature, sustained by her endless joy in the creations of others. On the other hand, Adam is driven to ceaselessly create music and invent, while expressing disdain for the idea of receiving recognition for his art. Which I suppose you could frame as the purest form of artistic creation, art for its own sake. I find it interesting, though, that the one in the movie who is miserable is Adam, constantly depressed by the state of humanity and the treatment of those who do create.
(I do love that the vampires here revered scientists with as much fervor as artists, by the way. I think it’s to do with the passion of creation or discovery more than anything else. But I could go on and on about that.)
So that’s where you get this being a movie about love as a powerful vital force, where the entire idea of blood for the vampires is incredibly secondary. You really do get the impression that if they lost their motivating love, they’d give up on the blood drinking too and call it a day.
This is kind of a record year for me, since this is the second vampire movie I’ve actually liked, Byzantium being the other. And one common thread between both of these movies is the fact that there was nothing really intrinsically sexual about the vampires. Clara in Byzantium was quite sexual, but that was more a flow through from her mortal life than the defining characteristic of a vampire. In fact, Eleanor (also from Byzantium) really has more in common with Adam and Eve, thanks to her passion for writing.
But anyway, Adam and Eve definitely weren’t running around and seducing mortals with their undead sexiness. (Thank goodness, I’m so very done with that.) In fact, after thinking about it, I now have a real appreciation for the utterly manky wigs all of the vampires wore in Only Lovers Left Alive because it simultaneously marked them as a bit inhuman, and also as people that really couldn’t be bothered with conditioner. Not anyone you’d expect to stand in the sunlight and sparkle while women fall at their feet.
So really, the vampirism was there to allow for a grander timescale of life, because the real question of the film was what sustains people and keeps them living rather than merely surviving. It’s a point that Eve makes to Adam several times in the movie, trying to get him to look outside himself and feel that passion again.
And then there is dancing in the living room, which is an example we all should consider following.
(tl;dr version, 750 words later: This movie is gorgeous and you should see it as soon as you are able. Also, Tilda Swinton is a magical unicorn of dance. Just be prepared for a little anti-Stratfordianism in with all the love.)