Vampire movies tend to be either extremely luscious, bordering on kitsch (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Interview with a Vampire) or extremely brutal (From Dusk Till Dawn, John Carpenter’s Dracula) or any mix of those two. Very few, however, show us actual vampires.
This sounds ridiculous, of course, what with vampires being fictional beings, but let me try to explain what I mean.
Most if not all movies featuring vampires depict either a two-fold persona that existed pre and after having been turned into a vampire or (and sometimes and) a monster. Some just show mindless, blood-sucking monsters, sometimes seductive, sometimes smart, but never an actual round character. In other cases where there is a person, which at one point is or was turned, a major part of his or her character hinges on this change or is defined by it. We learn about the human being and how he or she deals with having become a vampire.
Only lovers left alive features none of these problems. There is no monster or superior being, there is no yearning for the sun or celebration of inhuman strength, there is no splatter and no hunt. Adam and Eve are vampires. They don’t think about it, they don’t talk about it – there is no need for them to discuss their very being. They are. Period.
This setting, as simple as it sounds, enriches Jim Jarmusch’s movie in a way I never thought possible. He does not try to build a mythological background of vampirism or romanticises it, he just tells a story of two lovers within their existence as vampires. Within this story, we get hints of a larger picture: we know there are other vampires besides Adam and Eve when we get to know Marlowe and Ava, Eve’s younger sister. We know there is something or someone in London, preventing Adam and Eve to even change planes there. We know they barely ever touch anything with their bare hands and ask permission to remove their gloves when entering another vampire’s home. We also know there is a danger to vampires by drinking contaminated blood. But not once do we get a “this is their world” speech actually explaining anything – and yet few ‘worlds’ depicted in vampire movies have felt so round.
Not much happens in this movie and thus, everything becomes meaningful and full of contrast: black and white, old and new, joy and sadness, life and death. Jarmusch does not try to overwhelm with action or blood lust, instead, he focuses on the characters Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) and manages to paint a silent, guarded, beautiful portrait full of metaphors. Add this to extraordinary actors and an amazing soundtrack and you have a wonderful movie that is not your typical vampire movie, but so much more. Only Lovers Left Alive is not what I expected and because of it, exceeded everything I could have hoped for.
Juliane Taubner is a full-time nerd girl, gamer, feminist, literature and media junkie. Having studied English and German literature, she currently juggles work and being a mom whilst trying to fit her many interests into all-too-short days. She is also part of the Consulting Nerd Girls, a group of four women discussing all kinds of media in a monthly Google Hangout.