Recently Tara brought some of my more shameful attributes to out into the open for scrutiny. She wasn’t doing this to shame me or to make me feel like a pile of garbage, rather I had asked her to give a close outsider’s opinion for the sake of personal progress. The first and most prominent flaw was my inability to live in the modern world without sparring with every commercial, song, news report, movie, book, social network, or trend as though it had materialized before me ready to defend itself. I admit it’s a flaw, an inability to mind my own business and lead by example. When you constantly complain about the misdeeds or rampant theoretical emptiness of others you forget that your own bitter seclusion is just another form of lethargy that contributes to the state of things. Pride is a silly curse. In an interview with Bilge Ebiri, Jim Jarmusch addressed the main character’s --- specifically Adam’s (Tom Hiddleston) ---- “snobbishness” as a result of being alive and inquisitive for 2,000 years. He then went on to say that he could identify with the inclination, “Sometimes, yeah. I hear myself sounding snobbish sometimes when I criticize the way other people do things. It’s not a great quality. I try to check myself because I try to be … what I don’t believe in is telling anyone else what they should do or think. If I had any religious beliefs, that would be the biggest sin.”
The notion that certain vampires would become, in essence, the ultimate snobs makes sense to me. I think if some of us were allowed to live on, especially if forced into a form of pitch dark seclusion, we would inevitably weigh our knowledge and skill against the “zombies” sleeping amongst us. Musicians are often hauteur tycoons because our trade is as emulous as it is neighborly, and it always flourishes most when cut off and selectively ancestral. This is why Adam fills his sanctuary with old beautiful guitars and tape reels whilst running his operations on forgotten Teslan technology. He even lines his wall with pictures of his idols, though like any self-respecting snob he claims to idolize no one, a pure but delusional non-derivative being seeking to reinvent the wheel. Like most men, he’s humbled and brought back down to earth by a female counterpart who can match his talent and wit ounce for ounce. For some reason--- I’m guessing she needed a break from his bellyaching --- Eve (Tilda Swinton) lives in Tangier (he resides in a vacant Detroit amongst the packs of wild dogs) until a look of anguish and surrender from Adam nudges her onto a flight to his doorstep. When the two share a similar physical space you can see how they’ve managed to preserve their love for so long and you believe that it’ll only grow stronger. At the same time, I think you have to credit Eve’s patience and ability to curb his negativity which is one of many elements to ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE that brought me into the story on a personal level, not that it’s any less hypnotic without it.
Adam’s biggest issue isn’t the zombies and their disregard for the planet, though that’s certainly part of the problem, but rather his near complete lack of self-reflection. Eve calls him out on this, noting all of the fun and productive triumphs buried beneath the heap of downbeat grumbling. This moment hit especially close to home. Within Adam’s incessant complaining and name dropping lies a deep seeded love for the vanished past. But missing the days behind you is also a sign of blindness towards the gems that lie hidden in plain view. Therefore, it’s lovely to see his will to live resurrected by the mesmeric voice of Yasmine Hamdan, even if that resurgence is followed by some unfortunate survivalist bloodshed, an odd ending. In fact many of the best scenes involve zombies and vampires alike as spellbound spectators. It’s a way for Jarmusch to declare his love for his true religion.
I’m not sure that I’ve ever recalled the camera in his films being so mobile, nor his interiors this lush. He has always had knack for making me hate my living room and clothes. It’s like a bucket of blood dumped over my head, a way of snapping out of my 40 hour a week domesticated spell. Some call that “hip” but I think it’s “cool.” The music in ONLY LOVERS is similarly rousing and ubiquitous. SQURL’s droney hex adds to the thick mis en scene, saturating nearly every scene in palpable dread. It’s nice to hear Charlie Feathers, Denise LaSalle, and White Hills break the fog from time to time. Jarmusch’s atmosphere and dwelling décor do as much talking as his trademark pokerfaced banter.
Bringing it back, Eve blames Adam’s suicidal temperament on French romantics, Keats, and Byron. She knows him well enough to not take him seriously when incessantly name drops or claims to have no idols. She is every bit his superior and Jarmusch makes sure we know this. And for all of the brooding doom and gloom this is a film about love. Though young vulgarians and depleting water supplies might bring them down they’ll forever reconnect and revive their most soul sucking deficiency. Jarmusch’s vampire feat is ultimately concerned with Einstein’s theory of spooky action at a distance, specifically the mystical way in which these two lovers are just intertwined particles addicted to each other’s embrace.