not in our stars, but in ourselves
Reader! If you, like me, are a romantic (and Romantic) sort; if you, like me, enjoy a bit of vampire lore but rue its current state in pop culture (see: sparkles); if you, like me, often find yourself turning to films to help you to articulate (or at least to understand) your own philosophical outlook; if you, like me, yearn for films that fully engage all your senses; if you, like me, find Tom Hiddleston very easy on the eyes and find Tilda Swinton to be a constant source of inspiration and delight; then I humbly insist you run to your local art-house cinema and see Only Lovers Left Alive, right this very moment.
Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, Lovers is the story of Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton). They are vampires, married for a few hundred years but currently living apart: she in Tangier, he in Detroit. Adam is a gifted musician and quite an able scientist, but he lives as a recluse in an abandoned house. He writes and records dreamy, hazy guitar music – but he shuns human contact, dismissing nearly all humans as “zombies.” Eve is a voracious reader, and a champion of not merely surviving – but really, fully living. Her best friend in Tangier is Christopher “Kit” Marlowe (John Hurt), her main supplier of “the good stuff”: that is to say, pure, uncontaminated blood. Adam, for his part, breaks into hospitals and bribes a lab doctor to give him his supply. After Eve – on a hunch, perhaps – calls Adam and finds him bluer than usual, she goes to him.
It’s pretty simple, really, but all the more beautiful for it. True, there are some trifling complications and plot twists and the like, but the film is essentially a gorgeous celebration of love – and of life. These two undead lovers have learned, through the centuries, that love is all that lasts. Love for another person is, of course, what gets star billing here; but as Eve has learned, and as she tries to make Adam understand, love of life is just as important. Adam, like many geniuses and creators, finds himself depressed by how small and frightened everyone else seems to be. He bemoans the fates of Socrates, Galileo, Newton, Tesla – and Marlowe, of course, secret author of most of Shakespeare’s work – and curses the human world for not giving them their due. Eve is not the same kind of genius. She has a genius for observing, for understanding, for appreciating, for loving, for giving. She doesn’t create, but she does nurture; and, thankfully, Adam and Eve know exactly how imperative each is to the other’s survival.
As for the film’s more sensorial beauty: it has that in spades. Yowza. For your eyes: there is the lamplit night world in which these two lovers live, the sumptuously decorated apartment in Tangier and the shabbily Victorian home in Detroit, the luminously pale skin of Adam and Eve, the seemingly abandoned streets and buildings of nighttime Detroit; for your ears: there is the entrancing soundtrack by Jozef van Wissem, all droning guitars and North African beats, a perfect accompaniment to this film as well as to a makeout session with the live lover of your choice; for your skin, there is the richly upholstered bed where Eve daydreams and the lovely old velvet couch where Adam languishes, the ardor with which they embrace each other, the tenderness with which they comfort each other; for your tongue, there are long, lingering shots of each vampire deriving heavenly pleasure from their small sips of cool, fresh blood; and even for your nose, there is the hint of a damp American summer night, the whiff of ocean air at the edge of the Moroccan desert, the spicy aromas of a tiny Tangier cafe, the stench of PBR and hipsters in a Detroit club.
In short, the film is a sensualist’s delight. And a lover’s delight.
It’s refreshing, too, for a story about vampires not to focus on any idiotic wish to return to their human state, or on a struggle to suppress any sort of primal bloodlust; and refreshing for a story about love not to paint the whole thing as an exercise in futility. As far as the former is concerned, who would ever want to rejoin this silly rat race? And while we all need to eat, it’s not the fifteenth century anymore, as more than one vampire observes. There are other ways to satisfy their biological needs. Eyeing a bloody wound or a fresh cut may induce a certain amount of a certain kind of desire – like smelling a pizza may induce hunger, or at least a desire for hunger – but Lovers knows better than to cast most of its vampires as ravenous animals.
As for the latter point, perhaps love needs immortality to reach its full potential. But surely there’s some gleam of light for the rest of us, even without eternal life. I found Lovers to be the most hope-giving film I’ve seen in a very, very long time. Ironic, I suppose, since it’s just as much of a fairy tale as all those other cinematic romances I like so much (Casablanca, that kind of thing – must be something about Morocco); but it is often in these grandiose fantasies that the most fundamental truths present themselves. In Lovers, their love flourishes because they’ve lived centuries together, and they know it’s their one constant. The rest of us, here for only a relative blink of an eye, could probably learn quite a bit from Adam and Eve. Eve loves to hear Adam explain Einstein’s theory of entanglement: “When you separate an entwined particle, and you move both parts away from the other, even on opposite ends of the universe if you alter or affect one, the other will be identically altered or affected.” Yes, indeed. It’s well worth keeping that hope alive.