Only Lovers Left Alive: The monotony of a vampire’s life

Sunday, 23 February 2014 - 7:00am IST Updated: Saturday, 22 February 2014 - 9:19pm IST | Agency: DNA

Film title: Only Lovers Left Alive
Dir: Jim Jarmusch
Genre: Dramal
Country: Germany
Year: 2013

Throughout the pop culture ages, we’ve been conditioned to believe in a certain definition of Vampires. Quite simply, Count Dracula and his vampires are bloodthirsty monsters afraid of the cross and daylight. Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight books shifted that concept to a young adult setting and made vampires angsty teenagers to commercial but not critical acclaim. But what if vampires did exist in real life, and were a dying species? Jim Jarmusch ponders over the question and answers it brilliantly in his new film, the moody, peculiar and atmospheric Only Lovers Left Alive.

Only Lovers Left Alive premiered at Cannes last year, where it was nominated for the Golden Palm, and it’s a shame that it never got its due. Jarmusch has never been one to walk the commercial line and stick to any particular genre of cinema. All of his films have diverse layers, themes and characters that don’t really boil down to a central theme of his filmography. Except the night. In Night on Earth, he chronicled five random sets of people in five different countries at night. In Mystery Train, he followed the lives of four sets of people over one night. In Only Lovers Left Alive, he follows two vampires who naturally live at night.

The difference in Jarmusch’s vampires is that they’re a couple (played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton) and have major existential problems. The vampires, Adam and Eve, are tired of living forever and staying hidden from the rest of the world. They’re tired of the monotony of constantly searching for blood without alerting the cops. They’re so tired of being in love forever and disillusioned with themselves. It’s hard being a vampire because the humans are contaminating their own blood, and Adam and Eve hate humans for that. They call them zombies because in their eyes, humans are worthless and have even less life than they do.

Jarmusch cleverly establishes all these layers and adds a plot only towards the mid-point of the film when Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) shows up and ruins their quiet reunion. It’s a fun little plot device but Only Lovers Left Alive is all about the character details rather than the plot. Adam is a long-haired, sad-eyed, nostalgic vampire whose only means of income is his rock music. He produces albums but remains anonymous for obvious reasons. It eats him from the inside to be a talented musician and not be able to enjoy fame. The only way he can survive is by staying in a remote location alone, with his collection of antiques. There’s plenty of dark comedy in all this gloom. Adam is so nostalgic he uses ’90s tech to make a Skype call to Eve, who uses an iPhone. He uses ’80s tech to supply power to his house. The young Ava is over a hundred years old but is stuck as a teenager for the rest of her life, much to the chagrin of Adam. Eve, who stays in Tangier, hangs out with the famous 16th century writer Christopher Marlowe, who is shown as still alive, as a vampire well past his prime ruminating his old times. It’s masterclass detailing and only Jarmusch could pull off such an edgy, simultaneously sad and hilarious take on vampires.  

Thanks to cinematographer Yorick Le Saux, the atmosphere in the film is so heavy you could practically taste it. The rock-based music by Joseph va Wissem used in the film is infectious, and it probably has a chance at the Oscars next year. There’s a scene where Adam and Eve go to a bar in Tangier and listen to a Lebanese singer perform, and realise that they need to kill a couple — it’s hypnotic and quirky. Tom Hiddleston may be famous for playing Loki in the Marvel universe, but a year from now, he’ll be remembered as the depressed vampire Adam. Hiddleston has a flair for the sarcastic and he balances it beautifully with the melancholic side of his character.

Mihir Fadnavis is a film critic and certified movie geek who has consumed more movies than meals

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