Only Lovers Left Alive
2013 • 123 minutes • Sony Pictures Classics
There are videos and photographs in this world that show the slow, inevitable movement of the stars and the planets in slowly increasing speeds. Their orbits first become obvious, and then they become streaks of light. At the highest speeds, they all fold in on themselves, becoming halos. Eventually, everything circles in on itself in infinity. To quote Natalie Angier, remember that time and space are curved, and you will come back to me.
This fact (or observation) is very studiously echoed in the opening shots of Only Lovers Left Alive. The camera circles Tilda Swinton’s Eve as she twirls slowly, dancing to either some ecstatic inner music or. The camera circles Tom Hiddleston’s Adam as he plays a droning guitar, the muddy, drawn-out, and only appropriate music for such a scene. The film cuts neatly between them so that the circle is never broken—they’re intertwined, despite the vast distance between them. (The film later verbalizes this as Einstein’s spooky action at a distance theory, but this is much more elegant.)
It communicates so much with so little—that Adam and Eve are our eponymous lovers, that they, as vampires, are tied to strange, eternal rhythms, and that this film is about mining those outer reaches of immortality—the horizon at which everything begins to flatten and the singularity looms beyond it.
This is the point that Adam has reached in his afterlife. He is disgusted with humans (whom he contemptuously refers to as zombies), viewing them with disdain and suspicion. He is trying to balance his need to create music with his deep, required distaste for the spotlight. (Adam occasionally veers towards musical snobbery; when Eve remarks that a singer they’re watching is good that she should be famous, Adam scoffs.) Living in the ruins of Detroit, he’s on the down swing of a circle. His only connection to the greater world is Ian, a musician who specializes in procuring Adam vintage instruments, but even Ian is ultimately disposable.
Eve, living out a washed out but nonetheless vivid life in Tunisia, arranges night flights to come to her lover’s aid, gently tugging him out of his depression in a way that she’s obviously done several times before. This, too, is part of the strange, eternal rhythm of their lives.
There’s some narrative movement to Only Lovers Left Alive—especially when Ava, Eve’s impish, impulsive, and destructive sister comes to visit—but it’s largely languorous, a hang-out film of the highest order. Jarmusch is only marginally interested in the vampire as a predatory figure. Instead, what interests him are the consequences and gifts of eternal life: the ennui, the depression, and the greater appreciation for the world it can bestow. Adam and Eve’s aesthetics have been sharpened over centuries in their respective artistic passions, to the point that Eve, packing to meet Adam, takes only books to read to him, touching them as tenderly as children. It’s tempting to render them as creatures of pure intellect, but they’re sensualists, pure and simple.
The film is largely by Swinton and Hiddleston’s vivid, lived-in chemistry as a pair of eternal lovers. Seeing established couples in love is rarely enough in films that it’s a delight to see Adam and Eve nuzzle, touch, soothe, and otherwise simply enjoy each other’s presence. (At one point, Eve’s sire, Christopher “Yes That Christopher” Marlowe, wonders why the two bother living apart since they’re obviously gaga for each other. Eve doesn’t answer; she merely smiles.) Eve, Adam’s elder and implied creator, has a brighter and more practical view of eternal life. Despite her own love and appreciation for beautiful objects—one lovely scene finds Eve identifying a guitar by touch alone, reaching a slim white arm over her head and Adam to do so—she’s the one who tells Adam that they need to leave town after Ava drinks Ian. (Nobody is pleased by this turn of events.) Adam asks her if he’s supposed to leave his lovingly curated collection of instruments behind, and Eve soothes that there are so many beautiful instruments in the world. It’s a very refreshing perspective to hear from anyone, mortal or not, that the world is full of infinite beauty.
Only Lovers Left Alive is a slow, dark, and beautiful movie, best enjoyed in the early evening and into the night, when you’re tired enough to sit still for it but still wired enough to hook into its droning rhythms. It’s a treat worth savoring.
My roommate rented this DVD from the public library.