After two weeks of postponing this article, today I gathered my thoughts, got another mug of coffee and sat down to write about Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. And I can’t tell you how nervous I was. I’ve watched this film three times already: the first time was for my own pleasure, the second time because I wanted to write down some quotes and the last time because I wanted to have the scenes fresh in my mind when writing about them. That being said, let’s begin.
I was beyond excited when I learnt of this film. I demand a lot when it comes to vampires, whether they are presented in literature or in motion pictures… I demand even more if they fall in love. I was disappointed so many times, but once I saw the cast I had to try it no matter what. There are not many characters, therefore not many actors. But, damn, they are good! We’re going to see Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska and John Hurt.
It’s a love story between two vampires, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton). I need to stop here for a moment… seriously, Adam and Eve? I get it, the adamic couple (with a twist), maybe the fall of man; I understand the symbolic value, but come on! Yes, I’m being subjective here, I dislike these names… and Ava. But I won’t linger, it’s just a detail. Moving on to the more interesting aspects, the focus isn’t on the action, but on the characters, especially on the couple. Nothing much happens, we basically see the reunion of a man and a woman who adore each other and need one another to survive eternity. It’s not a horror film, the emphasis is placed on their love. The fact that they are vampires seems just a pretext to underline the fact that their love is so strong that absolutely nothing can destroy it. It’s true love and it’s beautiful.
If we are to speak briefly of the way the vampires are presented here, I would like to say that I appreciate the fact that Jim Jarmusch found a nice balance between tradition and innovation. Thank God, his vampires are not wimps – who consider themselves oh so dangerous –, idiots or acting worse than teenagers despite their age… if you’re over one hundred years old, you should act a little more mature than the average human. Show some dignity! Our vampires need blood to survive, they drink human blood (no, they usually don’t bite, that’s so fucking 15th century), they have fangs and they need to be invited in if they want to cross a threshold – otherwise it brings bad luck. They have fast reflexes, sleep during the day – in beds, comfort is key – and, what’s quite a nice touch, they always wear gloves when they go out. The gloves are elegant and cool, but wearing glasses at night is a big NO from me. What’s their use if the vampires don’t even have red eyes here? And why do they need torches at night, weren’t they supposed to see in the dark?
Let me tell you one thing, though. Yes, it does have its flaws, but I fucking love this film. Adam and Eve are fascinating, just like Tom and Tilda are. The actors do a great job making you believe that yes, they look young, but they are much older than one might think. The way they move, the way they speak – even the occasional swearing – everything makes you believe that they are creatures of the night. Not mindless, but intelligent, sensitive, unafraid of creativity, lovers of beauty, of art. And they complement each other perfectly. Adam is dark, broody, sarcastic, mourning a world that is slowly changing… or dying, if we look through his eyes. Eve is the moon which shines in his darkest hour. She’s always shown in light colours, from her clothes to her blonde hair, she’s lively and simply charming.
I want to speak about Eve because, to me, she was the greatest surprise. I’ve always admired Tilda Swinton, but this role just blew me away. Adam says at one point “Eve, you’re ruthless, you’re brutal!”; her reply: “I’m a survivor, baby!”. And she is a survivor, she is able to adapt to whatever changes life throws her way, she sees beauty in everything, taking advantage of her immortality: “Life is about surviving things, appreciating nature, nurturing kindness and friendship, and dancing”. These are Tilda’s words, just like the bit where Adam speaks about humans being afraid of creativity belongs to Tom.
Eve is everything I’ve ever wanted in a female vampire since Selene. I was starting to lose hope that someone would actually go “hey, not only men can be great vampires”. She is gentle and strong and intelligent and she loves books (she packs two suitcases of them when she goes to meet her husband and leaves many more behind). She is such a good example of what a proper female vampire should be. We don’t know how old Adam and Eve are, or how they had been turned, but I’m willing to bet Eve is older. She’s obviously more experienced and can live alone without slipping into depression. I want more characters like her.
Adam is just as complex as his wife (did I mention that they’ve been married since 1868? For the third time). But he sees life in a different way, he cannot understand how people let themselves be ruled by fear and stifle any trace of imagination. In short, he is disappointed with the way the world changes, but finds solace in music and in Eve. If you put these two together, you see that they come together like two pieces of a puzzle, neither complete without the other. There is so much love hidden in his heart… and so much pain. For Adam, Eve is his lover, wife, mother, mentor; she is the only one who can actually pull him away from the edge of the cliff, make him see that life is worth living.
The reunion scene is touching. It is heart-warming to see them reunited, loving and comforting each other. There is something new and also incredibly old in their love. Passion and routine are interwoven; they’ve been married for centuries, know everything about the other, but never allow their love to fade. They spend the days sleeping and the nights reading, dancing or making love. These two look wonderful together. They live in their own world and everything seems perfect until Ava, Eve’s younger sister, drops in uninvited and destroys everything.
Ava is played by Mia Wasikowska and she is, in my opinion, the most dangerous character in this film. She enjoys her condition a bit too much and she cannot be controlled. She listens only to her instincts, stopping at nothing in order to feed and have fun. She is like a wild teenager, one who has too much power and freedom. The two sisters love each other, Eve taking on a mother-like role at times, but that does not stop Ava from doing whatever the hell she wants, regardless of the consequences. My favourite line coming from her is “I might’ve been born at night, but I wasn’t born last night”… just goes to show that she’s confident in everything she does.
Moving on from that, it is so adorable to see little Mia swear… although “fuck” is thrown around here and there, there’s not one drop of vulgarity in this film. There’s a sense of elegance and mystery that keeps away the low aspects of life and not even Ava can destroy that. Adam dislikes (maybe even hates) his sister-in-law, so I am looking forward to see Mia and Tom in Crimson Peak, to watch them bring to life a married couple. I’m not sure what their relationship will be, so I’m excited to see what these two have prepared for us.
Humans are almost non-existent… except for Adam’s friend. They are seen as zombies, destroying and contaminating everything, even their own blood. We learn that the art we admire the most (music or literature) wasn’t created by humans, but by vampires who wanted to keep living in shadows, but make their work known. One example that stands out is Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) giving Shakespeare – described as an “illiterate zombie philistine” – his plays. What’s disturbing is that we know that Adam is not all that wrong in the way he sees people; sure, not all of us are like that, but the fact that fear keeps us in a leash, often destroying what is new and different, is very much true.
Finally, I love the music, it’s enchanting. It keeps a steady pace and helps you join the characters as they move slowly through life. And I like the way the camera moves when the vampires drink blood… the emphasis falls on the expression that crosses their faces, the same one every time: pure ecstasy. As for the ending, well… it was quite unexpected, the starting point of a new period.
To wrap this up, the film has its flaws, but I will watch it again anytime with pleasure. We need more films like this one, more actors and actresses like the ones keeping us company here. Nowadays, it is not often for us to get a film with vampires from which you can actually learn something else, one where they are presented as grown-ups; I don’t want to see characters immortal in their stupidity. To everybody who made this project come to life: thank you!
by Elena Atudosiei