Wednesday, September 23, 2020

H2020: #1 Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

The vampire genre has proved a fertile ground for musings on immortality. From Interview With a Vampire to the classic 1897 Bram Stoker novel Dracula, all explore the curse of not being able to die. Jim Jarmusch employs such an approach in Only Lovers Left Alive, one of my favorites of the past decade. 

Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton star as Adam and Eve, two vampires who've been living for the past 500 years. They refer to mortal humans as zombies. They spend alternating long periods of being apart and together. Eve is living in Tangiers and maintains her friendship with the playwright and Shakespeare contemporary Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) who faked his death in 1593. Adam lives a solitary life in Detroit and writes music for local rock musicians through his intermediary in the music industry Ian played by the late Anton Yelchin. Both depressed and missing each other, Eve sets out for Detroit to reunite with Adam. When Eve's mischievous sister Ava played by Mia Wasilkowska arrives the brief respite ends.  

Once reunited, Adam and Eve have officially been married three times, both reflect on the decades since their last meeting. Eve is fascinated with abandoned Detroit at night, reflecting, "when the cities in the South burn, Detroit will bloom." They have lived on the fringes of civilization and witnessed many rise and fall over the centuries. The combination of Detroit and Tangiers creates a unique mood. 

Despite their hip charm, vampires still thirst for human blood. Adam has a contact at the hospital "Dr. Watson" played by a suspicious Jeffrey Wright who supplies him with a fresh supply. Obtaining blood the old fashioned way, preying on unsuspecting victims, is only used for emergencies and considered obsolete. When not in need of blood, they pursue their various artistic and intellectual pursuits. Adam is a science prodigy and at one time aspired to emulate his heroes Galileo and Einstein, but at some point lost faith in science as a means of changing the world and now composes music. Eve still believes in the power of art.

Swinton and Hiddleston both provide a sense of tragedy and sensuality to their roles, both cursed and blessed with immortality. Music is the force sustaining both of them. There's no low brow or high brow, references run the gambit from Eddie Cochrane to Jack White and they're always on the lookout for something new, even in a world they view to be in terminal decline. At one point Eve asks, "Have the water wars started yet?"

I suppose living for centuries on end would lead any thinking person to philosophy. Watching the film during a time of quarantine felt cathartic, a vampire's life is built around social distance and nighttime after all! We're all torn between our primal instincts and aspirations to a more dignified approach to life so the characters Adam and Eve are relatable. 

Jarmusch's ennui aesthetic he's employed throughout his career starting with Stranger Than Paradise segue ways perfectly with the vampire film. Only Lovers Left Alive is drowned in darkness and neon, life on the space between the birth and death of a culture. 


No comments:

Post a Comment