Only Lovers Left Alive
Dir. Jim Jarmusch
Styles: vampires, romance
Others: Dead Man, Near Dark, Phantom of the Paradise
Links: Only Lovers Left Alive - Sony Pictures Classics
I love old things. They’re so romantic. Everything that’s past is fantasy, as is the future. That’s why I love rock’n’roll, too — because it’s all just so unreal and exaggerated. Like the cover to Her Satantic Majesty’s Request; it’s different from something like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which had so much to do with the real world. The Rolling Stones were living in another universe, on Earth 2, or Earth Five Billion, elsewhere, among clouds that stretched like paint streaks, completely imagined and just as real as anything else, or more real.
I didn’t like The Lost Boys. I think it was trying to scare you, fiery and big. I’ve never liked anything Joel Schumacher has made, maybe because his intentions are just too blunt. I liked Near Dark, though. It was about vampires, but it never said it, because it wasn’t really about vampires. It had to take its story out of the context of the everyday to make it plausible, believable, multi-dimensional. It felt cool and sweet — so romantic. It was what I wanted The Lost Boys to be: a movie about vampires that was from the point of view of the insiders, sympathetic and violent and weird.
Only Lovers Left Alive is like that, too. It’s about vampires. It’s not like Dracula, but it’s not against it, either; it likes Dracula. These guys probably knew Bram Stoker and have got the gossip on him, too. They knew Shelley and Byron, and one of them (played by the frail and as-brilliant John Hurt) wrote Hamlet. They play chess, and read voraciously in every language. Adam (Tom Hiddleston), lean and gorgeous and depressed, lives in a decrepit and beautiful large house on the outskirts of Detroit that he’s filled with antiquated audio equipment and instruments, recording endlessly and alone. Eve (Tilda Swinton), huge threads of white hair tufting around her thin face, flies from Tangier to see him, filling her suitcases only with books. They are desperate. When they’re apart, they video chat, Eve with her iPhone, Adam with a complex system involving his television and large speakers hanging from the ceiling and so many wires and impossibilities. It’s all very romantic.
I’m reminded of the greatest manifestations of rock music on film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Phantom of the Paradise — especially the latter. But they were contemporaries of their subjects, and Only Lovers Left Alive only has contempt for the world it lives in, having been passed by and left in the dust. Adam builds a generator with Nikola Tesla’s technology. He refers to human beings as zombies, and spends most of the movie decrying the stupidity of everyone. He plays music constantly, but when fans emerge outside his home, he always says, “Oh, it’s just a group of rock & rollers,” with such disgust.
“Just ignore them, darling,” says Eve, full of seduction, magnetism — all of it with a knowing self-consciousness, with the distinct feeling of fantasy. This is how vampires would talk, were they real. The weight of the real coming down once more.
I don’t disagree with Adam; like I said, I like old things. They make me feel like I am living someplace else. I like things, in general. Things give me a sense of fantasy, and play. I get to imagine myself as someone else, not seeing my reflection in the judgments of other people. That’s why I like movies, too, I guess. The world feels bad. I prefer fantasy. I prefer romance.
Only Lovers Left Alive is one of the most romantic movies I’ve ever seen. Its title might be the most romantic ever. It’s slow, sometimes; I don’t really care. Jim Jarmusch tends to do that. I like him, anyway — or I like his movies, but part of my point is, I probably wouldn’t care for him too much. He’s real. His movies, less so. Some things stick in your mind, submerge into you, become a part of you, like a pool of blood sitting atop a carpet for a moment before sinking in and staining. Those are the good things. This is one of them, a bath of only things that are less than real, wandering and dreaming and tripping fantastic.