Published on June 9th, 2014 | by Noah Dimitrie0
Only Lovers Left Alive
Jim Jarmusch has wandered into Anne Rice territory, exploring love and everlasting life, seeing history’s art, and entering an era of human war and pollution.
Only Lovers Left Alive is an incredibly and quite literally dark film, though most vampire flicks are. What really separates it from most other films in the subgenre is its tone, which is less horrific and more existential. It explores the brutal ennui of being undead; the voyeurism of life in the world’s shadow. It’s a vampire film that doesn’t once utter the word ‘vampire.’
Its eponymous lovers are Adam and Eve — names that bare the implication that they may be the only true lovers in all of history. They are nocturnal creatures who begin the film on opposite sides of the globe. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a suicidal rock god who prides himself on his absolute reclusiveness. Eve isn’t as melancholic, but she is still quiet, apprehensive, and determined. But it is only when they come together that the real magic happens. The film doesn’t give us much backstory on their relationship; a faded photograph of their ‘third wedding’ is all we have to go on. Instead, director Jim Jarmusch displays their love with a series of beautiful excursions through apocalyptic Detroit, and subtle nuances exhibiting their mutual respect and admiration for each other. You get the feeling that these two have loved each other for so long that all they really have left to do is bask in the raw chemistry that they share.
But all goes awry when Eve’s immature, little sister Ava arrives unannounced. She is disrespectful of Adam’s music and even more disrespectful of her supernatural cravings. Things predictably spiral out of control and our lovers are faced with a number of compromising situations that put their relationship and their entire world into question. If there is any flaw with the film, it rests with this chunk in which Ava (played wonderfully by Mia Wasikowska) serves as the inconsiderate, totally-devoid-of-self-control vampire trope that we’ve seen a number of times before. But the film manages to keep its footing mainly because it never takes its focus off of Adam and Eve and the eventual alienation they come to feel.
That theme of alienation is beautifully built into the texture of the film, with brilliant subtleties like the vampires referring to humans as “zombies.” The two lovers have seen it all and have become bored. The world has turned and left them here, there, everywhere, but ultimately nowhere. They don’t despise humans, they just simply can’t relate to them and their world. As the film progresses, Adam and Eve come to realize that they are a dying breed, with only each other to relate to. Perhaps that is the driving force behind their love.
And as independent as they seem, at heart they are slaves to their cravings. In fact, the film goes so far as to imply that they are more like addictions by portraying their feedings much like hits of heroin. Their heads cock back as they feel the blood run smoothly down their throat. Their eyes close and a warm smile covers their faces. It’s utter bliss; they can’t live without that tangible but ineffable feeling. How hard it must be on them. Imagine being born a heroin addict. And the humans have not only poisoned their world and their water, but also their blood, making it poisonous to vampires. So they can only mainline the pure stuff.
However, if I had to nominate this film for one Oscar, it would be Best Original Score. The music is atmospheric noise rock at its finest, presented as Adam’s personal recordings. They are his sporadic moments of inspiration and feel limited to certain specific moments. However, each tune provides the film with a captivating eeriness that becomes so infused with the overall atmosphere. Jozef Van Wissem and a band called SQURL are credited with creating the music. I’ve never heard of either artist, but they had me staying for the credits, which is no small feat.
The dark cinematography also plays a part in creating this eerie atmosphere. Yorick Le Saux who also shot Oliver Assayas’ new drama The Clouds of Sils Maria, uses the night as a canvas to paint an ominous picture. He uses colors only on special occasions when they serve a bold, invigorating purpose. He is given an dark underworld, rarely explored to such depth in film, and delivers a fascinating portrait of the reality these characters are forced to accept.
There is a shot in the film that keeps coming back to me. It takes place late in the first act, in which Adam and Eve finally go to bed. They lie naked facing each other with a pale blue moonlight airbrushing their bodies to perfection. It is a short shot, not directly integral to the story, but perfect in summing up the entire film. These are characters who need each other to feel complete, to feel safe. Here they lie together in such perfect composition. It doesn’t feel like an accident. They are lost and weak, but at least they can hold each other in perfect harmony. They feel naked when they go outside, among the zombies, into the real world. But when they lie together, they feel completely comfortable, completely transparent. This is their only peace. Here they are not monsters, they’re just simply tired.