American indie auteur Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, Only Lovers Left Alive, is so ironic and refreshing. Despite the topic of vampires being done to death, Jarmusch revitalizes the genre and delivers a psychedelic experience. You’d think that a filmmaker like Jarmusch, whose anti mainstream, wouldn’t dare go near a vampire romance. Instead, Jarmusch presents all the age old vampire clichés with wit, and light-hearted cynicism. In the words of William Shakespeare, or in this case Christopher Marlowe, “I bite my thumb at thee.” Blood popsicles and “Soul Dracula” serve as a satirical deviation from the more serious subject matter.
The film revolves around the melancholic romance between Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton). Their love has endured several centuries, which is probably more farfetched than the idea of vampires roaming the earth. In today’s western world of infatuation and divorce, true love seems to only exist in fairy tales. Adam and Eve reunite in the decrepit city of Detroit. Adam is a reclusive musician who writes music for the sole purpose of expressing his inner thoughts and emotions. In a true state of artistry, Adam does not pander for fortune and fame. Although this choice seems to be self-defeating since he’s grown a hipster following due to his mystery and seclusion.
Adam has lost all faith in humanity and refers to humans as “zombies”. The only “zombie” he can tolerate is Ian. Whenever Adam needs an antique guitar or some vintage vinyl records he calls on his “zombie” mate. The idea of “zombies” may be Jarmusch’s allusion to the decline of humanity. Blood poisoning and the scarcity of good blood makes reference to an increasingly intoxicated society. One can only speculate that environmental contamination or genetically modified organisms are the culprits.
Aside from some vague references to water wars and blood poisoning, Only Lovers Left Alive is “ars gratia artis”. Or art for art’s sake. Too bad MGM wasn’t affiliated with this film. I guess that studio doesn’t actually stand by its motto. It’s hard to imagine that major motion picture studios have any interest in art anymore. That’s why filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch and independent cinema are so essential.
Another integral part of the film is music. I still remember watching Dead Man and being completely mesmerized by Neil Young’s score. The sound of his guitar haunted me for several days. My reaction was similar to Adam witnessing the sensual live performance of Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdam. He said,
“She’s too good to be famous.”
It’s interesting because I had a conversation about “Top 40” music with a friend recently. We both agreed that “Top 40” music isn’t music. I suppose good music doesn’t actually correlate with fame. In any case, the film’s score is a perfect vehicle to transport you into this other worldly experience. Only Lovers Left Alive and its filmmaker, Jim Jarmusch, are too good to be mainstream.