What is the traditional vampire narrative like? Well, Bela Lugosi’s famous Count Dracula was a dangerous and scary being, aroused by the purity of virgins. Thirsty for blood, vampires have been depicted in fiction and film as sexual predators with porcelain white skin and sharp fangs. Their inhumanity has been a key factor – vampires are not humans, they’re something else entirely.
Leave it to Jim Jarmusch then to create vampire heroes who are not only human, but also have a penchant for music and literature. And they dress like rock stars. Starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, Only Lovers Left Alive is a mood piece more than it is a film. It follows a couple, fittingly named Adam and Eve, as they battle the inconveniences of being vampires in this day and age: not enough supply of good quality blood due to the bad nutritional and drug habits of “zombies” (what they call humans), hiding their identities, and bemoaning the days when being a genius didn’t equate fame.
Four years after Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control, Only Lovers Left Alive marks the director’s return to stories that develop characters instead of a specific plot. It is a rare pleasure watching Swinton and Hiddleston, two extremely talented actors, with shaggy hairdos, dark sunglasses and gloves as they roam the streets of Detroit and then Tangier, Morocco in search of, well, something; be it blood, or just to criticize modern society and its decline into ignorance. The two are like the ying and the yang, she always in white and he always in black. The physical resemblances between the two actors emphasize that Adam and Eve do indeed complete each other. They are like one person.
Just like any other Jarmusch piece, Only Lovers Left Alive comes with a great score that was composed by Jarmusch himself, teaming with his band Squrl and Jozef Van Wissem to create the moody, brooding tone of the film. Swinton and Hiddleston are joined by Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin and Jarmusch regular John Hurt. The film is an ode to hipster culture through the ages, and it is great fun to indulge in Adam’s high snobbery as he dismisses Lord Byron for being a pretentious prick, or his reasoning behind why it’s important to keep one’s best work to oneself. Only Lovers Left Alive is a vampire movie without overtly being one. Rather it is a movie with vampires in it, occupying the same space people do. Perhaps the mythical creatures’ undying passion for the arts is a metaphor for what makes life worth living.
By Radina Papukchieva