Only Lovers Left Alive is the tale of two fragile and sensitive vampires, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton). Both are cultured intellectuals with an all-embracing passion for music, literature and science, who have evolved to a level where they no longer kill for sustenance, but still retain their innate wildness. Their love story has endured several centuries but their debauched idyll is threatened by the uninvited arrival of Eve's carefree little sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) who hasn't yet learned to tame her wilder instincts. Driven by sensual photography, trance-like music, and droll humor, Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive is a meditation on art, science, and the mysteries of everlasting love.
The vampire genre has been hijacked. It's tainted, nearly ruined. And the vast majority of the vampires to make their way into entertainment over the last decade have broken the rules. The bastardization is as clear as daylight, yet nobody cares. It has become status quo for new vampire sagas to make up their own laws of nature. After experiencing the pathetic demise of the horror sub-genre via teen franchises and TV series (that shall not be named), getting something like 'Only Lovers Left Alive' – a true vampire tale that keeps the blood-sucking undead in the dark shadows of night – feels oh so good.
Eccentric, unique and interesting writer/director Jim Jarmusch has given us 'Only Lovers Left Alive,' which played at the Cannes, Toronto, New York and Sundance film festivals, amongst many others. The film brings us into the lives of an odd married couple of vampires. (Please note that the term "vampire" is never uttered in the film, but they're unmistakably true-blue vampires.) Adam and Eve, played by Tom Hiddleston (the villainous Loki in several Marvel movies, including 'The Avengers') and Tilda Swinton ('Snowpiercer,' 'The Chronicles of Narnia'), have been married for centuries, but live on different continents. Their separation is not due to the couple not loving one another; if anything, the love between Adam and Eve is even stronger and more realistic than any found in romance movies. You see, Jarmusch's vampires are not highly sexual beings like most cinematic vampires. Instead, they're sensual – as in, highly sensitive. They feel – possibly more than any vampires to date, which makes them sophisticated and artistic intellectuals.
It's never explained why Adam and Eve do not live together, but it's not hard to figure out. Adam is a musician who pumps out creative and original work. Being rich in musical history, he lives in Detroit, a place where his underground music fits in perfectly. Eve, on the other hand, is a literary junkie. Her passion has taken her to the Moroccan city of Tangier, where she's not only surrounded by her vast library, but has a fatherly friend figure (John Hurt, 'Alien') whose literary works are deemed classics. We're never told how long Adam and Eve have walked the Earth, but it's alluded to that they've been around for centuries. And having been around for so long and having an eternity ahead of them, their separation must only feel like the equivalent of an average human being away from his/her spouse or family for a weekend.
The old adage that "opposites attract" is immortalized by our central characters. Adam and Eve view the world through different eyes. His pessimistic viewpoint makes him look at humans as zombies: they mindlessly follow the same daily and weekly routines; theirs lives are all but lead by their own desires and passions; they are brainless beings who thrive on the destruction of others. Eve, on the other hand, doesn't entirely disagree with him, but in her educated opinion, humans are naïve creatures that don't know any better; they don't understand how to value what's really important in the world and life because their time on Earth is so limited in comparison. And as contrasting as their opinions may be, there's one thing that they both agree on: humankind is dangerous.
'Only Lovers Left Alive' is a mood- and character-driven film. While completely playing in-line with the genre rules, very few traditional vampire elements exist within it. For example, feeding is not a driving force in the film. Having been around for so long, these vampires have learned that barbarically draining blood from the necks of unsuspecting bystanders is hardly a choice lifestyle. They no longer prey in the shadows of the night, but find alternative, safer, non-violent ways of obtaining their sole food source. Because of that evolved vampirical lifestyle, hunting and biting is hardly part of the movie at all. So, with that out of the picture, what's 'Only Lovers Left Alive' all about? Living.
There are many forces that keep 'Only Lovers Left Alive' entertaining, but the mood and tone might be the strongest of them. There's something magnetic about watching Adam and Eve reunite and enjoy the night life in the shadows. Each of our leads has at least one secondary character that causes some uncontrollable outside tension that really stirs the pot. Adam hires a local human aspiring music producer (Anton Yelchin, 'Star Trek') to do the things that he cannot do – shopping, acquiring vintage guitars, et cetera. He also pays a night shift lab tech (Jeffrey Wright, 'Casino Royale') to help smuggle high quality blood for him. Eve has a younger sister who comes to visit, Ava (Mia Wasikowska, 'Alice in Wonderland'). Athought she's also been around for at least a century, her maturity seems to be locked in with the young age in which she was turned. Her flighty, spontaneous, disrespectful and inconsiderate teenage personality make for a lot of fun in the middle section of the movie.
As you may have gathered, there's not too much complexity to the story side of this narrative, but there's a lot of moody observational material. Most vampires movies show the immortal characters living the same way that they always have – no matter in which era they're set. But 'Only Lovers Left Alive' shows how they've evolved over the ages. It puts thought and analysis into how they would live, act and behave in modern times, how their marriages and relationships would thrive, and how they'd view the non-vampires. It explores exactly how a married pair of vampires might live after being around for centuries. Instead of showing the standard vampire plight, 'Only Lovers Left Alive' has an absolutely unique vision for the undead beings. It explores the genre more than any movie in many years. Because of that and its on-screen execution, it very much deserves to be seen.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony has placed 'Only Lovers Left Alive' on a Region A 50-gig Blu-ray disc and slapped it in a standard blue vortex keepcase. No digital copy codes are included in this BD-only release. Upon inserting the disc into your player, a bunch of content is automatically played – a Sony vanity reel and trailers for 'Magic in the Moonlight,' 'Third Person,' 'For No Good Reason,' 'Jodorowsky's Dune' and 'The Lunchbox' – but it's all skippable.
'Only Lovers Left Alive' hits Blu-ray with an astonishing 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that's presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. While most indie films are shot digitally – Jarmusch chose to do so for the first time ever with 'Only Lovers' in order to free up some of the budget – they don't typically look this good.
The film kicks off by jumping back and forth between three similar shots, all of which involve the camera looking directly down on an object while spinning in a perfectly circular motion. The shots are of a vinyl record spinning on a turntable (only it doesn't appear to be spinning because we perfectly spin in sync with it), Adam sprawled out on a couch with his gaze cast up at the ceiling, and Eve laying in bed. With each of the three shots, the camera slowly gets closer to the objects in the center. The sharpness of the image is crystal clear, the non-central spinning details being just as crisp and those moving slower in the middle of the screen. The effect is dizzying and brilliant, and the nice part is that the high quality of the image never, ever lets up from how its established in this opening scene. Like the effect caused by this scene, everything that follows is slow and mesmerizing.
Part of what makes the mood and tone of 'Only Lovers' work so well comes from the video quality. The palette is mostly made up of lifeless, dull and muted colors that suck the life right out of the fleshtones and environments, but on the occasions where our characters step out into the human world, colors explode. The wild contrast is amazing. Vibrant colors are welcoming, alive and eye-catching – not only against the dead palette, but especially against the many black settings. With the exception of a small count of scenes that appear to have the contrast bumped up, black levels are rich and consuming. Shadows devour whatever objects may be hidden within them. The inky black levels rarely waver.
Compression artifacts and sharpening/enhancing tools are completely absent in 'Only Lovers Left Alive.' There are several instances – like fading sunsets on the horizon – that would normally warrant banding, but that's not the case here. This is one of the very best-looking Blu-rays I've seen recently.
'Only Lovers Left Alive' comes with a very nice 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that's just as subtly delightful as the movie itself. Music has played a strong part in Adam's long life, so it's no surprise that it's a very strong aspect of this mix. Every drop of music, much of which is meant to be Adam's self-written/produced/performed hypnotic music, is dynamically mixed around the channels. One scene stacks images of Adam adding track-after-track into his multi-mixed music. Each time another recorded part is blended into the previous, you can hear the new addition stand out above the others until all of them harmoniously come together to complete the chaotic and entirely fitting song. This mood-setting aspect of the audio mix is highly effective and consistently impressive.
The vocal track is naturally mixed. If Adam and Eve are having low-level pillow talk, you'd better pay attention because their levels are not going to match the standard volume of conversational scenes. There's a very raw nature to this track that never comes across as sounding cheap or flawed, but natural and realistic.
Just like the vocal track, the effects aren't sensationalized; they're natural. With standard (and probably expected) vampire action completely absent here, there's not a lot of wowing effects. Instead, the effects are environmental and only used when they should be. Unnatural audio is added to mix, but only when the story calls for it (like in Adam's "science car"). Aside from those elements, like the vocals, the effects mix results in natural and realistic sound.
With the vampire genre having been smeared by awful, teen-friendly movies and television series, writer/director Jim Jarmusch makes up for lost time by putting out the most well thought-out and interesting vampire film in a long time. The creativity of 'Only Lovers Left Alive' is so unique and original that it would only function in a slow, methodical indie film like this. With great performance by lead actors Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, they get you completely invested in the picture itself. Co-stars Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, Jeffrey Wright, and John Hurt bring a lot of fun, tension and even comedy to the picture. Combine the solidly thought-out film with the near-perfect video quality and the effectively natural audio track, and you've got a great disc. With the only great special feature being a slew of solid deleted and extended scenes, the disc could have used more – but even then it's still a Blu-ray that I highly recommend.