Vampires and classic rock – what else do you need?
I never thought I would recommend a vampire film to anybody because, I’ll admit it, I’m a trend hater. To say that the novelty of the vampire movie has been over explored is putting it extremely lightly, with everybody’s favourite franchise Twilight, pummelling the concept of a misunderstood bloodsucking predator into our social consciousness for what is sure to be years to come. It is therefore a surprise even to me, that I would watch a film that includes any vampire let alone multiple ones. The reason I gave in – Jim Jarmusch.
The director is an interesting dude and has been doing his thing for a while now, writing and directing a number of films, two of which I have seen: Dead Man (1995) and Broken Flowers (2005) that are both very enjoyable and interestingly different from one another. Jarmusch is the kind of director that actually has something to say when he makes a film, he doesn’t simply slap visually pleasing images together for no good reason. His scripts are meticulous and purposeful, and in the three of his films that I have seen, the actors really seem to understand the characters they are portraying, adding a commonly overlooked, yet such a vital element of believability and immersion into the story. With Only Lovers Left Alive, Jarmusch creates another very unique piece as he ventures into the exhausted realm of vampires and breathes new life into it with his rustic, original approach.
To start with, the casting is perfect. Tilda Swinton has long been one of my favourite performers for the versatility and the intensity she brings to every role. She never misses a beat as Eve, a mellow, rather docile creature who wants nothing more than to enjoy the pleasures that life as a vampire provides. When we first meet her she is hanging out low-key in Morocco, enjoying the vibrant culture and interacting quietly and calmly with a select few she knows can keep her secret. Her husband is Adam (and Eve…whaaaat?) played by a compelling Tom Hiddleston who is disgusted with humanity (amen, brother) and has chosen, out of all the places he could live in the world, Detroit. If that doesn’t tell you anything about his state of mind right off the bat, allow me to elaborate. The currents state of humanity has made Adam so depressed that he barely leaves his rundown house in what looks to be a mostly abandoned neighbourhood in one of America’s most poverty-stricken cities. Once the epicentre of a booming American economy and a lively, energetic place, Detroit now lies barren and without its former soul, much like Adam himself. Once a prolific composer (remember vampires life forever until you stab them with wood or throw garlic at them, or whatever the rules are) Adam provided some of our most beloved classical composers with the compositions that made them famous. Now, he strums heavy melancholy tones on his classic guitars, that the fans eat up, but this hardly satisfies him. His only chance at an upswing in mood is when Eve agrees to come visit him, and she does so in perfect time as Adam has just had one wood-tipped bullet ready to use on himself.
Jarmusch and cinematographer Yorick Le Saux, include a beautiful palette of colours and shots to make this one the most memorable films I can think of when asked about visual style. Deep reds are seen in nearly every shot (I think you can guess why that might be) and at times are beautifully contrasted with neutral shades of brown and beige worn Eve and Adam. The dim lighting necessary to emulate Adam’s state of mind is perfect, and when the two eventually both end up in Morocco, the cinematography is completely captivating. Though straightforward, the use of colour, lighting, and framing is flawless, adding even more to the very immersive experience of watching this film.
Jarmusch uses his characters to provide an accurate and somewhat disturbing critique modern society’s decline, which is why this film works for me even though it has vampires in it. From infecting our own blood with carcinogenic foods and recreational drugs (no longer safe for vampires to drink) to blindly following trends perpetrated by profit-driven institutions, we have become “zombies” in the eyes of these vampires. I’m not really sure when Jarmusch believes this decline began, but I think we all know that our materialistic and technological obsessions are getting slightly out of hand. What Jarmusch points out is that these shallow obsessions have steered us far away from what makes our existence fun – creation. It is through creating rather than consuming, that we as human beings truly experience life. Our current culture, however, is driven by consumption, by consuming the most recent product to gratify ourselves and prove to those around us that we matter. Jarmusch’s characters have been alive (I’m assuming, it’s not totally clear) since pretty much the start of it all and have witnessed some of the most artistic and creative periods in human history. It follows logically then, that they might view the current state of mass consumer culture as a disappointment. It is true that Jarmusch has been criticized for creating ‘snobby’ characters which I guess is meant to be a criticism. If it bothers you too, the next time that you’re thinking about how “things just aren’t like they used to be,” imagine how somebody who witnessed the birth of classical music and renaissance painting must feel about Justin Bieber and Instagram.
It is through, what I previously thought to be the exhausted cliche of the vampire then, that Jarmusch finds a compelling and appropriate vehicle to remind us that we have lost our way. I purposely left out elements of the narrative I felt were too easy to spoil, so please do not worry – the film is not two hours of social commentary. This is a touching love story, wonderfully written and superbly acted. I strongly recommend this film to anybody wishing to indulge in a visually and creatively beautiful story, but if you would rather check Kim Kardhasian’s Facebook page while listening to Selena Gomez, this film isn’t for you.
Only Lovers Left Alive Trailer”