What could Jim Jarmusch add to the obsolete and worn down folklore of vampires? An offbeat reprise, with harmonic scores from Jozef van Wissem and Jarmusch’s own, SQÜRL, entrenched with yesteryear musical classics would seem adequate. Not quite, it would seem, as Jarmusch weaves a simple Goth drama about two eternal lovers and ultimately brings about a compelling movie contrasting with traditional vampire myths and symbols.
Living in two distant cities, Eve (Tilda Swinton) in Tangier and Adam (Tom Hiddleston) in Detroit, these lovers have endured the depths of time in the veracity of the world’s glooms living through every major movement, phase, and epidemic the world has experienced. Life, however, doesn’t take a stark turn for them until Eve’s ungrown sister (Mia Wasikowska) appears and when she does; it coagulates their haven with practices of traditional vampirism. You could say the last resort. From there on, eternal darkness it is for the only two lovers left alive or undead, as Stoker would charm them, yet plodding in their own ambience of seclusion.
Right from the onset, Only Lovers Left Alive induces a cool feeling. The serene environment here is almost meditative and as a viewer, you clutch on to the atmosphere, which seems divinity until you watch the red juice (wine?), the red ice on stick (Popsicle?), or the red juice inside an alcohol tumbler (whisky?). The blood doesn’t gross you out. Think of a situation when somebody is sucking on a Popsicle of iced blood. Sounds sordid, doesn’t it? Sure, it does, but it also makes you sympathize with these innocent beings and their unusual dilemma. Serves as a bona fide testament to the storytelling prowess of Jarmusch—vampires seem innocent despite feasting on blood.
It would be an understatement to suppose that Jim Jarmusch brings his indie touch to this conventional and downright preposterous sub-genre. But it’s also the truth. In today’s 24-hr. media frenzy society where active isolation is considered a defect, Jarmusch poses a scenario for people who’d want that seclusion amidst the bareness of society. Having no option per se, Adam and Eve are forced to constrict themselves to their passions—music for Adam, literature for Eve. Melting together, we’d find two geniuses with centuries of training talking about hypothetical concepts beyond the comprehension of zombies, as Adam refers to humans, and the descendants of decay that is humanity. When these obtruding zombies threaten to devastate their utopian romance, life itself becomes a challenge for these oblivious lovers. As viewers, we could only journey alongside them in this tussle, never with them.
Only Lovers Left Alive deviates from standard vampire norms and puts spotlight on the precariousness of vampires in today’s world. Distinct to other movies of the same kind, we don’t observe guilds of vampires here, or petty rivalries between vampires and humans or wolves. The story isn’t about Count Dracula or any count, nor does it unswervingly source itself from the bundles of vampire movies that have come out since Transylvania. Is it enchanting though? Absolutely.
The pastels decorate Only Lovers like painting, art, which is what the movie is. The nocturnal filming together with the distant use of lighting, the musical scores, the performances, and the subtle camera movements brush the dreariness of life on each frame invoking a glumness, arresting our spirit, and reflecting the world that could be in front of our eyes with elegance.
Misery is latent in this drama about melancholy. The performances of both Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston mirror misery, but it’s not the misery of isolation; it’s misery after failing to attain a dignified recluse. And for vampires to survive they need fresh, red juice. Adam has his own supplier thanks to the heavy chunk of money he exchanges for the O negative. Eve, in Tangier, has the maestro Marlowe (John Hurt) giving her the good stuff. For how long? That is the catch and when such is the delicateness of the situation, one would ponder—when stacked against all odds, would these lovers respond to the call of Nature or Nurture? Remember, geniuses they may be through centuries of reflection, but they are mere slaves of the unnatural, without which, life is untenable for them.
The movie as a whole feels like a soulful opera. Warm lights, beautiful images, and a disheartening tone—mirroring a tragic play. At 2 hours long, the pace is slow and brooding, but it doesn’t let go. Drawing you into the action, it holds onto you, even after the curtains have rolled. The plot is hardly significant, almost insubstantial for the dramatic eye and that may appear the weak point, yet is it? On the contrary, it’s perhaps the most absorbing part. The story is centered in its subtlety—a musical gothic drama, the most accomplished one in vampirism, we could suggest.
Flowing like music itself and gripping the viewer in awe of the world of Only Lovers Left Alive, the movie explores the horrors of vampires in a way never been done before. Only Lovers is contemplative and exposes the bleakness of such a life, almost drawing a parallel to an outcast. Who is this outcast in reality? Only vampires or any human bold enough to defy the norms of society; that is up to the viewers to decide. Nonetheless, it’s a question worth pondering upon and this artistic drama would tempt you to put on those thinking hats and ponder upon the value of emotions over actions, living over life.
One of the simplest movies from Jarmusch, but also the most complex perhaps, Only Lovers Left Alive isn’t everybody’s wine. For those who appreciate the deeper quality, the sheer redness of the fruit, and the romantic taste, Jarmusch’s latest is a thrilling entry into the legend of vampirism and a movie worth applauding for its beauty and contrast.