Follow TV Tropes


Film / Only Lovers Left Alive

Go To

"How can you have lived for so long and still not get it? This self-obsession is a waste of living. It could be spent on... surviving things, appreciating nature, nurturing kindness and friendship... and dancing!"

Only Lovers Left Alive is a 2013 fantasy Dramedy film directed and written by Jim Jarmusch and starring Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, Jeffrey Wright, Slimane Dazi, and John Hurt.

Eve (Swinton) and Adam (Hiddleston) are two ancient vampires who have been married for centuries. Eve is a lover of literature and knowledge living in Tangiers, while Adam is a tortured musician and amateur scientist in dilapidated Detroit. Eve undertakes a difficult journey to console Adam when she notices that ennui and cynicism are starting to overwhelm him. They're interrupted by Eve's sister Ava (Wasikowska) whose appetite for blood — a foodstuff to vampires — seems more like a drug addiction. While they do their best to make Ava welcome, things go downhill rapidly, and soon their comfortable world starts falling apart.

Tropes appearing in this film include:

  • Adam and/or Eve:
    • Adam and Eve, obviously, though given their shared penchant for using the names of literary characters as aliases, it's probable that their names are assumed.
    • Could also apply to Ava, whose name is a variation of "Eve".
  • Anti-Hero: Adam and Eve are very lovely people, but they are willing to feed on the couple in Tangier out of desperation once they lose access to their blood supply. However, they do agree to turn the couple rather than outright killing them.
  • As Herself: Towards the end, Adam watches a performance by a Lebanese singer named Yasmine — who's played by a Lebanese singer named Yasmine Hamdan.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Christopher Marlowe is rather keen on not letting people know that he is an immortal vampire, and doesn't seem to care that much that Shakespeare took credit for plays he wrote (it's implied that he let Shakespeare take the credit in order to stay out of the spotlight because he had supposedly died).
  • Blatant Lies: Adam repeatedly claims that he doesn't have any heroes. This is in spite of having a large wall covered in portraits of artists and scientists who are clearly his heroes, and he idolizes one of his friends (Marlowe).
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Ava is actually Eve's little sister, but she acts like this. The scene where she climbs into bed with Adam and Eve is very reminiscent of a young child interacting with exhausted parents.
  • Byronic Hero: Adam. Invoked Trope since, according to Eve, Adam used to be friends with Lord Byron himself and other romantics as well and they changed his mind.
  • Central Theme: Love and beauty. The two main characters are "lovers" who are entangled with each other no matter where they go or how long they stay apart. They are characterized by their love of beauty, which they find in music, literature, science and even downtown Detroit. They refer to humans as "zombies" because they are "dead" inside, no longer appreciate the beauty around them and are even poisoning their world. One of the reasons Adam likes Ian is that Ian truly appreciates the instruments he finds for him on a deep level as well as his music.
  • Character Name Alias: Adam uses the aliases Dr. Faust and Dr. Caligari when he visits a clinic to buy blood. His supplier obviously knows that they're aliases and doesn't care, as he sarcastically refers to him as Dr. Strangelove.
  • Color-Coded Characters: Adam's dark-haired and wears black, while Eve is white-haired and mostly wears white.
  • Cool Car: Adam's immaculate 1982 Jaguar XJ-S, which he's outfitted with custom-built Tesla tech under the hood.
  • Couple Theme Naming: The main couple are named after the first human couple from The Bible.
  • Cultured Badass: Both Adam and Eve. Adam is a Gadgeteer Genius who is also a musician, and Eve loves books of all kinds.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Adam's preferred palette is black (in contrast to his wife Eve, who wears almost exclusively whites and ivorys, befitting of her more optimistic personality), but he's by no means a bad guy.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Adam. Eve also has her moments, such as when she chides Adam for his relentless pessimism.
    Eve: You missed all the real fun, like the Middle Ages, the Tartars, the Inquisitions.
  • Dehumanizing Insult: Used by vampires against humans, funnily enough. The more cynical vampires refer to humans as "zombies", aimlessly wasting away their lives without a spark of creativity.
  • Disposing of a Body: Hollywood Acid variant. What happens to poor Ian after Ava drinks him.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • The vampires' relationship with blood is intentionally depicted very much like a drug. They get it through dealers, and there's a lot of talk of purity and "the good stuff." When they drink it, they get momentarily high. Ava is depicted as an addict. She doesn't know when to stop, and Adam won't show her where he keeps his "stash."
    • Like most vampire tales, blood also takes the place of sex. Ava's interest in Ian looks like lust, but she really wants to drain his blood.
    • In the end, Adam talks about how when two particles become "entangled," anything that happens to one will be experienced by the other, even if they're on opposite sides of the universe. This reflects Adam and Eve's eternal love, even when they're on opposite sides of the world.
  • Dramatic Drop: Eve drops a flask full of blood when she discovers that Ava has fed off of and killed Ian, causing blood to spill across the floor.
  • Driven to Suicide: Adam is depressed, and contemplates taking a wooden bullet to the chest. Eve comes to do an intervention. That's the plot, in a nutshell.
  • Eternal Love: Adam and Eve married for the third time in 1868, and are still madly in love with each other, though at the start of the film are living apart: Adam in Detroit and Eve in Tangier.
  • Fantastic Racism: Vampires call humans "zombies" and have a very low opinion of them. Adam in particular is quick to point out the many ways humanity has failed to progress past xenophobia and superstition.
  • Fatal Flaw: Ava's gluttony ultimately gets her banned from Adam and Eve's presence yet again. Although she seems friendly and loving, she is shown to be severely lacking on the side of introspection and self reflection, and doesn't take anything seriously. It is implied that one of the reasons why Adam strongly dislikes her is that she reminds him very strongly of the human flaws that he despises.
  • Friendly Neighborhood Vampire: Adam and Eve avoid attacking people, and when they do, they prefer turning instead of killing. Ava is technically even friendlier, but has more trouble controlling her urges.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Adam. His house and car run on generators he built himself based off Nikola Tesla's work (an old friend, you see). He and Eve use a lot of old-fashioned technology that Adam has jerry-rigged to be quite advanced, such as video conferencing televisions that are so old they have knobs and an antenna.
  • Gilligan Cut: Adam insists that he won't be taking Ava and Eve out anywhere. Cut to a live gig.
  • Hair-Contrast Duo: Tom Hiddleston as Adam reprises his Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunet look, while Eve's hair is white-blond.
  • Happily Married: Adam and Eve.
  • Healing Factor: A deleted scene shows Adam accidentally reaching into a beam of sunlight while falling asleep on his couch after dawn. The light immediately burns the back of his hand straight down to the bone, but the wound heals so quickly and completely that it's gone almost before he's had time to look at it.
    • When a vaguely-suicidal Adam asks Ian to procure him a custom bullet made of dense old wood, Ian mentions having previously gotten him a box of regular .38 shells for the same gun, implying that Adam may have previously tried shooting himself with these and survived with no permanent damage.
  • Hipster: Adam and Eve are essentially bohemian vampires who spend their time appreciating beauty in a variety of artforms. Notably, they don't limit themselves to outdated artforms. Adam is very interested in science, and they both love Jack White.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: William Shakespeare is declared a liar and thief, taking credit for plays that Christopher Marlowe had written. To be fair, as Marlowe himself points out, most of the plays were first shown to the public after Marlowe had supposedly died.
  • Hollywood Acid: There's a pool of it in an abandoned carpark that dissolves flesh in about a minute.
  • Humans Are Bastards/Humans Are Flawed: Adam believes this.
  • I Call It "Vera": Adam names some of his instruments.
  • In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: All artists, at least. Apparently Christopher Marlowe was a vampire, and between him, Adam, and Eve, they knew practically every famous writer or musician in the past 500 years. Byron and Mary Shelley are name-dropped, and portraits on a wall include Shakespeare, Poe, Kafka, and Mark Twain. Also included are famous film-makers, especially Jarmusch's former teacher, Nicholas Ray, director of In a Lonely Place and Rebel Without a Cause.
  • Lack of Empathy: When Ava drinks Ian, she doesn't seem to think it's a big deal that she just committed murder. Adam & Eve's reactions are somewhat muted, which is justified because it's implied that this tragedy is something they have lived through time and again but can do nothing about. Nonetheless, Adam and Eve seem to realize the gravity of the situation, unlike Ava. Eve does her best to console her husband after losing his only friend and while Adam tries to deflect by grumbling about his guitar, he's clearly upset.
  • Living Forever Is Awesome: Eve is firmly in this camp. Adam is more of a mixed flavor.
  • May–December Romance: It's mentioned very quickly that Eve is much, much older than Adam. Of course, by now it's a November-December romance, since the two are hundreds of years old now.
  • Missing Reflection: An interestingly ambiguous case - Adam and Eve are overtly shown to be visible in photographs and video(including digital video), but neither of them appear to own mirrors in their otherwise furniture-filled homes.
    • One deleted scene does show a cab driver making eye contact with Eve in his rearview mirror while they talk, but the angle of the shot doesn't reveal her reflection to the viewer. He also turns around a lot to look at her directly, possibly bemused at being unable to find her in the mirror. A scene in the actual film where Adam and Eve take a taxi together shows them slumped down very far against one door - possibly from the exhaustion of travelling, but maybe also so as not to be at a convenient angle for the driver to see in his rearview.
    • Another deleted scene explictly shows them not reflecting in a large antique mirror, but Eve pleasantly notes that it's an "old" mirror - possibly implying that they can still be seen in modern ones, and just not antiques. This would square with the fact that mirrors made in the 1835 - 1940 period were backed with silver(a traditional vampire anathema), while most mirrors made since then use alumninum or chrome.
  • Must Be Invited: Ava enters Adam's apartment without permission and Eve tells her that it's bad luck to do so, although nothing bad happens to her.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • The "Paris thing" with Ava. It's implied that she killed someone or otherwise drew unwanted attention, but that's about it.
    • For some reason, Adam does not want to risk a stopover in London on his way to Tangiers - despite his accent implying he's a Londoner. It's possible he's spent enough time there in living memory that he's simply afraid of being recognized.
    • Adam's bathroom has been 'out of order' for some time, and we never do see what's in there. It's probably where he keeps his stash, since he never needs to use the bathroom for its actual purpose, being a vampire.
  • No Sense of Personal Space: Ava, who cheerfully hugs people (mostly Adam) who definitely do not want to be hugged.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Played for drama. Adam hates his sister-in-law Ava. It seems petty before she feeds off of and kills his only human companion. Worse, it's implied that this is a reoccurring problem whenever they get together and has forced Adam and Eve to relocate to avoid trouble.
  • Oh, Crap!: Eve when she gets up and goes downstairs to discover that Ava has drained and killed Ian.
  • Omniglot: Eve speed-reads literature in a variety of languages. Justified by her age giving her plenty of time to learn lots of languages.
  • Only Friend: Ian is this for Adam.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: These vampires avoid feeding directly on humans, in part because it is inhumane and attracts undue attention, but mostly because they have an extremely low tolerance for contaminants like drugs (prescription or not) and other toxins prevalent in the blood of present day humans. Kit becomes very ill and dies after drinking contaminated blood. They don't need to eat in large volumes, but they do need to eat very frequently, and starvation rapidly sets in if they don't feed for more than a day. Hunger turns their eyes reddish-gold, causing them to wear sunglasses in public, even at night. Blood seems to be intoxicating to them, and while most view it only as a foodstuff, Ava's hunger seems more like an addiction. Also, they can move supernaturally fast if need be, and at least some can send prophetic dreams to others and have the power of psychometry. Like traditional vampires, they are nocturnal and vulnerable to sunlight and being pierced through the heart with wood, but unlike traditional vampires, who can't cast reflections and are not visible on film, they can appear on TV cameras and in photos. Eve warns Ava that it's very bad luck to cross a threshold without being invited, but Ava dismisses this as superstition and teasingly asks if she's "still afraid of garlic," suggesting that these things may be taboo if not necessarily harmful.
  • Perma-Stubble: Adam has a slight but unvarying five o'clock shadow. Possibly justified by the fact that he's undead.
  • Perpetual Frowner: Adam, who doesn't crack a smile throughout the entire film.
  • Pet the Dog: Eve and Adam agree to turn rather than kill the couple they're about to feed on at the end.
  • Picky Eater: Adam and Eve prefer to drink O-Negative blood (the "Good Stuff") and they're extremely particular about the purity of their food. The latter is justified, though, as vampires have a very low tolerance for any contaminants.
  • Product Placement: In addition to name-checking a number of famous guitar brands like Fender and Gibson in the opening scene, the film also shows Eve using an iPhone to have a video chat with Adam (and towards the end of the movie, there's a shot of Eve holding the phone with the Apple logo prominently visible).
  • Psychopathic Womanchild: Ava, a centuries-old vampire who kills remorselessly, behaves like a thrill-seeking, spoiled, insatiable teenager.
  • Really 700 Years Old:
    • Word of God says that Adam is ~500-600 years old and Eve is around 2,000 years old. A deleted scene also mentions that she's originally from the Bructeri tribe that lived in modern-day Germany during Roman times.
    • Marlowe implies in one scene that he wrote Hamlet (yes, that Hamlet) shortly prior to meeting Adam, which would mean that Adam would have to be at least 410 years old.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The vampires' eyes become an eerie reddish-gold when their blood reserve runs dangerously low. That's why they tend to wear sunglasses at night.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • Adam, the depressed, suicidal recluse, always wears black and has black hair. Eve, the vivacious lover of life, always dresses in white and has white hair. That being said, Dark Is Not Evil and Light Is Not Good fully apply.
    • Their names. That being said, we have no idea if 'Adam' and 'Eve' are their actual names, or if they assumed the names at some point and kept them.
  • Ruins of the Modern Age: Played straight, with Detroit. Truth in Television.
  • Scenery Porn: Adam's house, especially if you're knowledgeable about vintage musical instruments and recording gear.
  • Shared Family Quirks: Adam shares Eve's habit of referring to species by their full Latin names.
  • Shout-Out: There are tons of references to works and people that Adam and Eve like.
  • Sliding Scale of Plot Versus Characters: The film is all the way on the side of characters, since the plot is basically "Adam is depressed, Eve comes to cheer him up. Ava crashes them. They have to leave because she killed Ian". Most of the film is a character study and a brooding on art appreciation.
  • So What Do We Do Now?: Adam and Eve ask it together after they've fled Detroit, seen Kit die and are all out of blood.
  • Sunglasses at Night: All the vampires, for reasons presumably related to their vampirism, but never explicitly clarified.
  • Time Abyss: They're vampires, after all. Eve visits Adam every few decades like a married couple living on either US coast might visit once every two weeks.
  • Vampires Are Rich: Adam and Eve seem to have an unlimited amount of wealth. Adam overpays for everything with big wads of hundred dollar bills. Eve has a box filled with international currency and credit cards.
  • Vampires Are Sex Gods: Played with. Adam and Eve are two beautiful people who share an intensely erotic relationship and sleep together naked, but we never explicitly see or hear about them having sex. Being undead, they clearly lack many common bodily functions, which could include sexual arousal. If they do have sex, they appear to be monogamous.
  • Vegetarian Vampire: Adam, Eve and Kit Marlowe prefer to simply buy human blood from hospitals because the blood is cleaner and doesn't require attacking or killing anyone. Though, they're reluctantly willing to feed on humans if they are desperate - and presumably did so for any number of centuries before donated/refrigerated blood became a thing.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Most of the many references to centuries of artists, musicians, authors and scientists go unexplained, despite helping shape the main characters' lives in meaningful ways if one knows who they are and what they did.
  • Weakened by the Light: The vampires are shown sleeping during the day and planning all their other activities between dusk and dawn, including having to awkwardly schedule international flights and stopovers that ensure they'll only be in public after dark when travelling.
    • A deleted scene goes further by showing Adam accidentally scorch the back of his hand in an errant crack of sunlight through his living room curtains. The burn completely heals within about three seconds.
  • Wizard Needs Food Badly: Signs of starvation start setting in if vampires don't feed for more than one night, making any long distance travel risky and exhausting at best. On the plus side, a sherry-glass-sized hit of blood each night appears to be enough to satisfy them during routine life. We also see them 'indulging' in more throughout the film, as popsicles, a flask shared on a night out.... and in Ava's case, several pints of human blood straight from the source, which is enough to make her feel sick - though possibly just due to Ian's blood having 'impurities' like drugs, alcohol and general Detroit pollution.
  • Wooden Stake: A modern spin - Adam asks Ian to get one of his black market contacts to make him a .38 cartridge with a slug carved from of dense, old wood, and lists several examples of trees the wood should ideally come from - clearly knowledgable of what kinds of wood can best kill a vampire. He later puts the gun to his chest and imagines firing it through his heart. While several other traditional vampire weaknesses like garlic are mostly laughed off or dismissed in the film, Eve herself takes the bullet very seriously when she finds it.