BIFF Review – Only Lovers Left Alive (USA, 2013)


Seeing Only Lovers Left Alive at the Brisbane International Film Festival was the best kind of surprise. The title alone had piqued my interest, and the synopsis ensured that this would at least be an unusual film, if anything. But Only Lovers Left Alive completely and utterly stole my heart right from the first frame of its opening credits, emblazoned with blood red gothic typeface against the night sky.

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are the lovers of the title, two old souls living as outsiders in a world without a place for them. After all, they’ve lived for centuries and have a penchant for blood – they’re vampires. But they’re not regular vampires, they’re cool vampires – they wander deserted Detroit by night, muse about the decline of culture in the world, and they prefer backdoor hospital dealings than killings to get their fix (“that’s so 15th century,” as Eve muses). Living at opposite ends of the globe when we are introduced, Adam and Eve reunite and reminisce of days spent with literary, musical, and artistic greats as they explore deserted Detroit by moonlight. Their time together is interrupted by the arrival of Eve’s fiery sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), whose visit will have major consequences.

The brainchild of alternative mainstay Jim Jarmusch, Only Lovers Left Alive is a refreshingly original riff on a genre populated by Twilight and its seemingly infinite derivatives in recent years. But to simply categorise it as a film about vampires would be doing it a great disservice; It’s vampire fiction for the most discerning of audiences, referencing everything from Shakespeare to Schubert by way of Buster Keaton and Joe Strummer. Jarmusch has crafted a film that just oozes cool from every pore; the vampires are part of the in crowd, and god forbid that you’re one of the zombies. Adam and Eve are the coolest people you’ve ever met, but it’s never less than effortless – if you’d lived for 500 years, you’d be pretty cool too.

There’s not much of a plot going on here – it’s undoubtedly a mood piece; only appropriate when telling the story of two people that have lived for centuries. The whole film is gorgeously unhurried, reflected in the romanticised cinematography, the brooding soundtrack (courtesy of Jarmusch’s band SQURL), and the pitch perfect delivery of Jarmusch’s screenplay from the entire cast. But for a two hour film with minimal story to tell, it’s never laborious and will have you mesmerised from the start.

I honestly can’t think of a single thing I would change about this film. I could happily discuss and dissect it for hours if I only had the time or vocabulary. Only Lovers Left Alive completely hypnotised me under its meditative spell until the absolutely genius final frame. One of my favourite films of the year – maybe even a favourite film, period – and an absolutely thrilling take on a genre that I would have otherwise written off.


This film screened as part of – and was reviewed at – the 2013 Brisbane International Film Festival