Theory of Entanglement
‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ provides a beautiful reflection on the nature of humanity as seen through the eyes of vampires
By Michael Nordine 04/10/2014
The word “vampire” is never said aloud in “Only Lovers Left Alive,” but “zombie” is — it’s what the ageless Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) call us. To them, there’s nothing strange about having vivid memories of the Middle Ages or sneaking off to a hospital in the small hours of the night to rejuvenate their blood supply. What does trouble them is how some of our brightest minds (Tesla, Copernicus, Darwin) were treated by their contemporaries; how, as Adam so nicely phrases it, humans are afraid of their own imagination. Writer/director Jim Jarmusch has little interest in the vampire mythos, but the unique perspective on science, art and life itself that such an in-between state engenders clearly fascinates him to no end.
Joie de vivre may seem an odd phrase to invoke when describing a movie about two vampires, one of whom is a saturnine musician on the verge of offing himself with a wooden bullet, but Jarmusch’s dark comedy breathes vibrant new life into a tired genre. Though blood sustains the pair physically, it’s whiling away the long nights by dancing to old LPs together and re-reading “Don Quixote” that gets them out of bed at night. Adam and Eve are more recognizable as high-minded aesthetes than they are as mythological beings, and in all but ignoring the usual trappings of such creatures Jarmusch has made them as compelling as they’ve ever been.
Initially separated by several thousand miles, the lovers are united by their differences. Eve has an iPhone, while Adam collects antiquarian guitars; he lives on the outskirts of Detroit, she resides deep within Tangier. Sensing his sadness, she takes a red eye and shows up at his secluded home in the dead of night. Hidden away within his house, their pale skin contrasts strikingly with the eye-catching garments they’ve accrued over the centuries. The leisurely pace at which their ensuing adventures unfold is apropos of their very long lives. Every single minute is nevertheless suffused with such tantalizing atmosphere that it takes no time at all to get as lost in this timeless milieu as they are.
Much like” Under the Skin,” “Only Lovers Left Alive” provides a beautiful reflection on the nature of humanity without actually featuring a human protagonist. Wisdom accompanies age, and living through century upon century allows Adam and Eve to take the long view of history, culture and everything else under the sun (or moon, as it were). The “wilderness” of Detroit isn’t a failed city to her, but rather a dormant one that will eventually rise again. She and her melancholy inamorata are like archaeologists traipsing around the ruins of a once-great city under cover of darkness, and they know that growth and decay don’t represent a beginning and an end but two stages of a repeating pattern. We may have caught them in the middle of a down period, but Jarmusch gives us reason to suspect they’ll soon be on the upswing.