As much as I enjoyed Only Lovers Left Alive – and I really did enjoy it – I was surprised to realise that it just barely tops two hours. It feels longer. It feels like at least two and a half hours; and I’d swear half the run-time was composed entirely of Tilda Swinton’s character dancing while the camera spins around her and Tom Hiddleston’s character moodily playing the guitar and the drums…
This is not a fast-paced film. I’ve seen it described as ‘languid’, which seems like the right word. It’s rarely dull, but it’s slow and meandering and for the first hour almost entirely plotless. Actually, it’s a pretty effective demonstration of how you don’t actually need a plot to tell a story. There’s no exposition; we never learn how Tilda Swinton’s Eve and Tom Hiddleston’s Adam became vampires, or how old they are; or how they’re related to Mia Wasikowska’s Ava or John Hurt’s Christopher Marlow; and their fates after the film are equally ambiguous. It’s implied at times that they might be the real Adam and Eve (and Ava Lilith) but this isn’t dwelt on.
It’s a meandering slice out of a much longer and more sprawling story that we only need to see one slice of, because it repeats itself constantly. Adam and Eve have parted ways and come back together before. Adam has been through depressive periods before, and been pulled out of them. Encounters with Ava always end in a bloody death. The recurring spinning imagery (spinning records, Eve dancing, the rotation of the earth) implies the cyclical nature of the story, and of both human and vampire life more generally. Things are bad at the moment; they’ll get worse; they’ll be good again in the future. ‘This place will rise again,’ Eve says of Detroit.
Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are both fantastic; they were made to play vampires. They have the perfect faces for it, equal parts beautiful and creepy, when they want to be. These are vampires that feel truly old and inhuman while also being warm and relatable. Adam broods and isolates himself, but Eve has a constant zest for (eternal) life; if his character is perhaps a cliché, hers is endlessly refreshing. And when did you last watch a film about a vampire who was passionate about science?
But I hesitate to call Only Lovers Left Alive too refreshing, because it does fall into some of the usual traps of vampire fiction. These are the all-to-common vampires with the mysterious ability to befriend only people who will be famous in the future – although Adam does also name-drop a few old friends who aren’t household names any more, which is a nice touch. And these vampires don’t drink their blood out of bags because it’s more ethnical; they do it because killing humans is ‘so fifteenth century’.
In a word: these are hipster vampires. Classy hipster vampires who have absolutely earned the right to their intense pretentiousness, but hipsters nonetheless. That’s not a complaint; Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as hipster vampires. What’s not to love about that?