Jarmusch’s Vampires in Love
New film offers a look into the intellectual lives of a vampire couple.
Published: April 12, 2014 (Issue # 1805)
According to Jim Jarmusch, financing his latest film “Only Lovers Left Alive” was a very difficult process. It took him seven years to raise the money for the project. It seems surprising, given Jarmusch’s status as one of the most sought after independent film directors and that each of his works has been destined for success. The director’s vampire drama is no exception. The film received its international premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013 and, although it didn’t win the Palme d’Or, critics around the world unanimously lauded the new “masterpiece” by the cult director.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” is Jarmusch’s first film based on a love story but it is not without a twist, as might be expected. The two lovers in this case are ancient vampires played by Tom Hiddleston, known for the role of Loki in “Thor,” and Tilda Swinton, famous for her “mystical” roles, such as the White Witch from “The Chronicles of Narnia” and a fallen angel in “Constantine.” The attractive vampires are named Adam and Eve and their alliance is a perfect example of a harmonious union of opposites. Adam is a brunette dressed mostly in black, and Eve sports white hair with a penchant for white clothing. He tinkers with old equipment and lives in a dying Detroit. She uses an iPhone and chooses life in the exotic and beautiful city of Tangier. He is a reclusive musician contemplating suicide, while she teaches him to enjoy life. At the same time Adam and Eve share many similarities: They are both outcasts of a kind, bohemians hooked on art and mankind’s greatest achievements. As a result, the names of prominent figures from history such as Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and Franz Schubert are heard throughout the film. Not only are they mentioned but the English poet Christopher Marlowe, played by John Hurt, makes an appearance as a vampire as well as the author of works attributed to Shakespeare.
Jarmusch’s attention to the canon of vampire cinema is understandable because the director likes to pull apart popular genres and create movies about outsiders. Since their appearance in literature and cinema, vampires have always been strange characters, standing apart from the gray mass of humanity. Of course, over time their appearance has undergone some development. The bloodthirsty aristocrat Count Dracula, famously played by Bela Lugosi, has been gradually humanized and has even given up killing people. Vampires have become disillusioned romantics (“Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles”), rock stars (“Queen of the Damned,” “Suck”), and the drinking of blood, which is originally a symbolic representation of sexual pleasure, began to resemble drug use (“The Lost Boys,” “The Addiction”). Jarmusch has used all of these elements from popular cinema mythology. He did not destroy it with unusual interpretations or unexpected additions, but developed the allegory logically, which is, in fact, atypical of his working method. According to Jarmusch, vampires are imaginative people. As a result, they can not be associated with the living dead. The negative role of corpses contaminating blood as well as nature is held by humanity, which Adam and Eve contemptuously call “zombies.” Jarmusch has repeatedly mentioned his sympathy for marginalized artists and his sad certainty that humanity will soon destroy itself in interviews. So “Only Lovers Left Alive” offers a metaphorical portrayal of the director’s vision.
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