Only Lovers Left Alive is what should be, in theory, a good movie. It made vampires somewhat interesting again, which in current popular culture is a noteworthy feat all on its own. The film features great performances from talented actors, and the dialogue features some interesting commentary from eternal beings’ views on the human masses, colloquially deemed as “zombies.” However, Only Lovers Left Alive seems to lack one key element, and it really only hit me as the credits rolled: this film doesn’t really have a plot. I found the experience enjoyable as I was watching it, but is that enough to justify this film’s existence if there isn’t enough thematic or dramatic substance to tell a cohesive story?
Let’s start with our two main characters, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton). Pointlessly allegorical nomenclatures aside, these two characters are very intriguing takes on the vampire and eternal life mythos. Adam is a natural loner who only seems to truly care for Eve. He broods and creates music with an impressive array of instruments, but seems weary of life and the idiocy of the human race. He proclaims his love for the great scientists of history, but mourns how humanity has again and again destroyed them personally through imprisonment and ridicule. Eve, on the other hand, is the yin to his yang, a lover of literature and history who loves Adam for his artistry and isn’t quite so cynical about the world. Hiddleston and Swinton have a beautiful gothic chemistry together, never elevating their voices beyond soft tones and rarely moving faster than a relaxed slothliness. It’s easy to tell that these characters are in love and why they love each other, and that love is never brought into question.
I further really enjoy how the film treats vampires as a “society” of isolated loners, pushed to the edge of extinction by the contaminants that humans continue to pump into their bloodstreams. And yet, when the vampires partake of their stock of pure blood, the result is euphoric, demonstrating that their food source is just as much a drug for them as, say, heroine would be for a junkie. It’s a rather novel take on the vampire, for they are now a monster that belong in simpler times and struggle to survive in a world where everyone’s identity is easily traced and it’s impossible to devour a victim without someone investigating their disappearance, nor is it desirable for their general health and well-being.
I only wish that the film had actually taken one of its ideas for a plot and actually run with it for the entire runtime. Instead, the film feels like three separate first acts with very quick resolutions. The first plotline follows Adam’s and Eve’s initial separation and coming together again while Adam struggles with a suicidal depression. But that depression is dropped within minutes of Eve’s arrival (even if his characteristic melancholy remains intact). The second premise revolves around a visit from Eve’s over-indulging party-girl sister, but that too is promptly wrapped up with little consequence. The final plotline follows from the second, but is resolved with the final shot of the film, and without much fanfare.
I’ve decided to be intentionally vague about the details of the last two plotlines because I’m going to give this one a very narrow recommendation. The performances are quite good, and the way these characters interact with their world is intriguing in its interpretation of classic vampire mythos. However, I don’t think this movie is quite as fresh as it’s pretending it is, because under its succulent aesthetic is nothing but a hollow husk, sucked dry of any cohesive narrative arc. Take a bite of this one for a decent treat, but just don’t expect it to taste as good as it looks.
What’s your favorite take on the vampire mythos? Let me know in the comments below.