Only Lovers Left Alive
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, John Hurt
Written & Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
How good is this movie?
It’s a vampire movie starring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. If that doesn’t sell you, I don’t know what will. As a portrayal of world-weary, immortal artists, I admit that I don’t always buy it. The dialogue can be corny and the characters occasionally shade into ridiculous. Really, the film only works about half the time. But when it does it works so darn well! There’s little in the way of story or action: just beautiful people beautifully filmed in beautiful surroundings. The humour is so dry I only got some of it on re-watch. There are plenty of Noodle Incidents and unexplained elements to give the story depth. And the two leads share a chemistry that’s out of this world!
How ace is this movie?
Eve and Adam are married and have an intensely sensual relationship. They constantly touch each other in different ways: holding hands, lying all over each other, or sitting with their arms wrapped around each other. Curiously, however, the film is devoid of sex, either real or implied. We’re never shown when, if ever, the characters graduate from cuddling to intercourse. As a result, the touching does not feel goal-directed. It’s not just a formality they must go through so they can get to the good stuff. Instead, they seem to savour and enjoy it for its own sake. This ends up being much more erotic and conveying the characters’ passion for each other much more effectively than any crassly literal sex scene. Of course, we may assume that they have off-screen sex, but…
How ace are these vampires?
As vampires, Eve and Adam clearly lack many standard bodily functions. They do not appear to use the toilet, for example, or to eat or drink anything except blood. It’s not hard to imagine they might also lack the capacity for sexual arousal. There’s no direct evidence for this, but at one point Ava angrily tells them to “Go fuck each other!” – as though fucking isn’t something she’d normally expect them to do! While pure speculation, the idea that they might be in a non-sexual marriage opens some intriguing possibilities for how we interpret their interactions. It would mean that all the cuddling, hand-holding, and other forms of touch aren’t merely the precursor to sex, but represent them at their most physically demonstrative. There’s a definite appeal to imagining characters who can enjoy each other’s bodies in all kinds of ways without needing sex.
Eve and Adam drink blood, but they get it from flasks rather than people. As a result, their consumption of it looks more like getting high than like having sex. It also means they do not make other vampires. In other words, their relationship, sexual or not, is non-procreative. That said, the link between feeding and sex is still present in Ava’s predatory behaviour towards Ian. The contrast between her form of feeding and theirs could easily be read as a metaphor for coercive and non-coercive forms of sexuality. And the film’s ending invites a very heteronormative interpretation: a childless couple give new meaning to their lives by choosing to reproduce.
3.5 Stars; 3 Aces