Vampires have been filmed ad nauseum yet our collective fascination with them continues. And Jarmusch has added a very nice, thoughtful entry into the genre with his "Only Lovers Left Alive" starring the ethereal and outrageously talented Tilda Swinton and charismatic Tom Hiddleston, both perfectly cast.
Eve and Adam are married vampires, centuries old, and living apart...he in Detroit and she in Tangier. We get the sense that they are not living apart from any kind of strife but more from a kind of wandering, and when one is centuries old, what is a little separation of a decade or few? It might seem more like a few weeks. A sense of time would certainly have to be altered if one were a vampire. But these two still love each other, tremendously. One has the feeling that, yes, they might be the only true lovers left on the planet.
Indeed, there are a lot of interesting and thought-provoking ideas in this film. I do like the vampire genre and have read all the requisite books and seen all the films, but I don't think I have ever encountered such a portrayal of vampires or pondered these particular ideas presented in this film. Generally, vampires are portrayed as powerful creatures, but although Eve and Adam may be able to move much faster than humanly possible (indicating some form of superior strength) they are shown to be anything but powerful. They are trapped in a prison--not able to be in the sun, of course (an established fact of vampire lore), and not only trapped in time (unable to age, and therefore unable to move through life, as we have seen in many vampire stories in the past), but (and this one is a new idea) trapped in a kind of cultural/social exile. What if all one wanted to do was to write plays or symphonies, or invent new engines and machinery...and what if one were very good at it...and what if, because of one's centuries of accrued knowledge, one was actually quite brilliant--a genius? How could one possibly publish or perform or patent being a vampire afraid of discovery? What if the thing that fueled your soul and drove your creativity prevented any kind of recognition for or sharing of that thing? It is a supremely sad, isolating idea to ponder.
But back to this idea of immortality and time sluicing through this world like a flood, dragging everyone along with it but you, if you were a vampire: it is a wonderful metaphoric touch that Jarmusch chose Tangier and Detroit as the cities in which his vampires live. Tangier is ancient and bears the marks of time and civilizations as it is swallowed up by shifting sands. And it is no accident that Adam lives--or hides--in Detroit, a city that is all but destroyed at the start of our twenty-first century...a dead city, a place that time and people have used up, a shadow, an empty echo. And this sums up the feel of the entire film. Adam and Eve are lonely vampires, full of centuries of literature, music, art, culture, weary from the ability to see cultures and societies come and go...to be forced to witness the destruction of these things by time as well as the destruction of the planet and humankind by our own hand. What is the helplessness, the resignation--you can't stop it, you can't prevent it, you can't change it--that would come from being witness to all this? In the film, it adds up to a melancholy, bittersweet tone poem, the kind written by the French Symbolists. Or as Sting so poignantly noted, "When the world is running down/ You make the best of what's still around." Maybe it is not so different from being a human being witnessing it all...
Recommend? Yes. But be warned: Not much happens in this film, but it doesn't have to. It is an exploration of a mood, a feeling, a situation, a texture. And it is quietly lovely.