Emilie Kefalas | Monday, September 1, 2014
A supernatural substance combined with the science fiction genre have enthroned the mystery of the vampire into our fascination and artistic experimentation. I use the word “enthroned” to suggest a surreal majesty about these “creatures of the night.” The more recent pop culture format in which we’ve viewed the pale undead drains this fright and lets the bloodsuckers bring sexy back (nothing screams sensuality like biting necks). Ordinary humans are complex, so why shouldn’t vampires be even more multidimensional, being immortal?
I examined all of this in hindsight following my encounter with the superbly told and soundtracked British-German vampire flick, “Only Lovers Left Alive.” Had I not been consistently daydreaming of Tom Hiddleston this summer, this cinematic collage of visual and audio beauty would have easily slipped my attention on Amazon Prime. It lured me in with its poetic and cultural balance, arousing my literary senses in a satisfactory cinematic experience so delicious, I rewatched it the next day.
The timeline of the film’s journey from production to finished product is interesting given that its worldwide release has been a slow and steady process. Critical acclaim first came at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and then again during its recent cinematic spring release in the States. With yak and human hair draped in shades of black and white-blonde on their British brains, Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are the captivating vampire couple, our “creatures of the night.” Their love and individuality make Edward and Bella’s dynamic pale in comparison. Hiddleston and Swinton are joined by an ensemble of brooding romantics, a bohemian’s dream of hipster characters, including Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Jeffrey Wright and Anton Yelchin.
Audiences are given a VIP seating for the private lives of lovers Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton), names which immediately establish their relationship as one that surpasses all temporary trust and faithfulness. She is the Yin to his Yang. Because they have lived and loved each other for hundreds of years, they are comfortable spending anywhere from twenty to thirty years apart for the sake of their own space and reflection. Their souls are not suffocated within their immortal bodies nor are they tortured watching hundreds of years of man’s progress change their wilderness. They have endured as individuals and as lovers through the Middle Ages, the plagues and the Renaissance while interacting with some of the most influential names in art, music and science along the way.
The film opens with the vampires miles apart with Adam in Detroit and Eve in Tangier. Director Jim Jarmusch displays his vampires as cool, cultured and surprisingly human creatures who have tamed their wildness and craving for blood. This element of Adam and Eve’s survival appears more human than savage once Jarmusch shows audiences how they forgo their typical role as predators. Grabbing random people off the street is so fifteenth century. Our lovers adapt to their changing world, getting their blood through black market-style dealings and connections. Eve buys from her fellow vampire and dear friend, Charles Marlowe (yes, that Charles Marlowe played by Hurt), who gets “the good stuff” from a French doctor. Adam lives off blood donations he buys from a Dr. Watson at the local Detroit hospital. The vampires drink their blood out of shot glasses for breakfast and dinner. Their days are our nights, beginning at sundown and ending at sunrise. Many of Jarmusch’s films take place at night, but the darkness under which Adam and Eve live provides them with a life secluded from the day’s intrusions.
The melodic flavor of the film’s presentation evokes a poetic viewing, thanks to Adam’s role as the dark and brooding seasoned-musician-vampire. He is a genius in his own right having lived and learned from writers such as Lord Byron, musicians such as Franz Schubert and scientists such as Nikola Tesla. Eve is the sunlight he needs in order to live and not just exist. He reunites with her after a brief yet passionate phone call during which she senses his frustration and struggle with the human race, whom he continually refers to as “zombies.” What follows is their secluded way of life, first in Detroit and then in Tangier following Eve’s sister’s, Ava (Wasikowska), unwelcomed and untamed stay.
Surviving amidst a humanistic uncertainty, the story of Adam and Eve develops through the haunting chords of Jarmusch’s band, SQÜRL. The mesmerizing soundtrack projects beautifully against a Shakespearean wilderness of loneliness, will and eternal life. I could write an in-depth analysis identifying the literary devices I appreciated in the romantic and dry-humored script, but I am not immortal. However, after savoring “Only Lovers Left Alive,” I feel as though I could be with Adam and Eve as “creatures of the night.”
I urge you to become hypnotized by the bloody beauty of this true vampire romance while also enjoying a refreshing O-negative blood popsicle.