Slow, transient and loving, these are the qualities that make “Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)”, a film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, a silent masterpiece. Beyond the complexities of romantic love between two human beings, Jarmusch takes us above the bar, giving light to a dreamlike version of vampiric love – away from the teeny bopper romances like the Twilight Sagas and Vampire Diaries’ that came before it – more human in his visual description of a subtle kind of love. It’s a couple old as time, sharing a connection more subdued and complex that can be described adequately in a sentence. Though, today we shall try!
The couple represents just that, the oldest probable couple alive and how their bond has lasted through the ages. Between long distance video calls and retro TV’s that seem oddly in place with set pieces haphazardly from all different eras, the couple wades in the waves of the indie art spirit. Lovers of both the arts and sciences, playing off each other wonderfully; the cynical, sentimental, ‘retro’ musician – Adam, and the whimsical, lover of the arts and the more mature of the two – Eve.
Adam has the true spirit of the “Artist”. Hiding his identity and name, he refuses to be recognized for his talent and only wishes some of his work to make the light of day. It’s making a mark, perhaps giving him motivation beyond the zombies (an endearing term he gives the human night dwellers), that seem to bore him. A musician with talent through and through, his style is exuberant and comes through in the movie’s acoustic choices. Haunting, a slowed down version of Wanda Jackson’s “Tunnel of Love” from the 1960’s, twisted into what I can only describe as getting into a musical ‘high’- fitting taking into account the hippy drug and free spirited vibes of this era. His brooding nature sometimes borderline on being excessive, save not for his wife and lover, Eve.
Eve as mentioned, is the more “mature”, or at least the more grounded of the two and she represents the spirit of an Art lover. Stationed in Tangier at the beginning of the movie, she stands out as an otherworldly figure, pale with long shaggy white hair, basking in the lights, sights and the art around her. When she contacts Adam through a video call, he looks visibly dejected, tired of living, or of life? His request for a working bullet made out of the densest wood would imply so – deliberate suicide as the only way out for those who are immortal.
“We’ve been here before,” she exclaims. This existential crisis, the need for purpose. Wise and knowledgeable as a couple they are, what do they have left and why are they still here? Despite her annoyances, she takes the trip to Detroit – as Adam reciprocates this love in return and feeds of it like the quiet exasperation of a spoiled child. Eve always seems so motherly, taking the role of calming Adam during brief periods of quiet anger and managing her disruptive sister, Ava.
Blood is used wonderfully in this film as an allegory for drugs – A ‘high’ only few can encroach upon and the look on these character’s faces is one of pure ecstasy. The parallels with the human druggies that search for some possible deeper meaning in life – amoung all this. For our vampires, the blood here also represent the soul of art, or rather the search for it as something more. They live of it, and every corner of their being and life depends on it. Contamination of the zombie’s blood as a lesser form of consumption, and in many cases even poisonous as the film can show you.
If you look at the movie and all the highlights, nothing really big actually happens. At least for the most part, we are treated to a very romanticized, yet very real depiction of long lovers. Comfortable, and passionate without the fire and flurry of young teens in love under the bed sheets. It’s subdued, poetic, beautiful and reflects the love of an aging couple in the nubile body of vampires. One moment, they are dancing together, and the next enjoying each other’s company through discussions of the lives and tribulations they’ve had. Some minor plot points include the introduction of Eve’s sister Ava, Ian the young chap assisting Adam in his errands and music distribution, and Kit a fellow vampire based in Tangier.
While some dialogue in the film were oddly glaring, like the name dropping of famous poets/ writers/ singers and or musicians that were borderline on being either pretentious or informative, I quite enjoyed these moments of recluse, as our main couple laments through the lives they’ve lived, past all the annoyances and disappointments they may have had with humans along the way. The love they have, is solid but transient and all encompassing. Long distance, or place to place, up-heaving everything they own, they are all they have left of each other in this world that can barely give them much to wonder upon anymore.
It’s a very different kind of vampire movie. For dramatic effect, it is less about the typical extistential dilemma of being a vampire, in fact it’s hardly mentioned at all. It’s a vampire movie with a very central existentialist theme on time, bonds and human nature through the understanding of the arts and sciences. It beckons questions on what it means to live life to the fullest through a very slow depiction of romance. And for a jaded vampire couple with nothing much to lose or nothing much new to learn, each other is all they have left.