Jim Jarmusch, one of the main directors of American independent cinema, tells the story of two vampires in his 2013 film Only Lovers Left Alive.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” Plot and Themes:
This movie, in which Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play two vampires named Adam and Eve, is essentially a love story. But the consequences of being a vampire in the modern world are reflected with interesting realism. We witness many moments of these vampires who have lived for hundreds of years. We watch what they do at night, their extraordinary relationship with science and technique, their production as an artist and their passion for intellectual knowledge. At the same time, as a vampire, we realize how difficult it is to survive without killing people. It seems very difficult to find “pure blood” in the 21st century.
They buy plane tickets to travel overseas and mingle with people. They have items and books that they have accumulated over the centuries. These vampires, who are not so free with the memories of all these years, try to stay away from the hidden power of the modern state system.
They seem to be freed from the yoke of the clock—time. But they are still highly dependent on space.
In Eve’s words, the time of the bodies they drank and threw into the Thames in the 15th century is long gone. The world has changed, and vampires are not immune from this change. For example, we watch vampires using smartphones in changing conditions. There is also the concept of death that they have witnessed for centuries. They try to cope with the pain of the death of a loved one, their anger at people, and most importantly their suicidal desire.
Only Lovers Left Alive shows us the ordinary life of vampires in general. While doing this, it reflects the cyclical time understanding to the language of cinema. According to this understanding, there is no linear time in which history is constantly advancing. On the contrary, it is just like the rotation of a record on a turntable, no result is reached.
Linear time is based on the idea that we come from somewhere and go somewhere. It is progressive and evolutionary. Like a shooting arrow, it points to the irreversible history and time. Cyclic time contains endless transitions from chaos to cosmos. It contains the past and the future. Right now, it is the universal rhythm that determines the cyclical time, and the progression and speed that determines the linear time.
Time Concept in “Only Lovers Left Alive”:
The opening scene of the movie is a clear manifestation of this understanding. Our cinematographer positions the two characters lying with their eyes closed in different places in the divine perspective. The camera monitors the cyclic movement from top to bottom. Meanwhile, Fallen in Love’s (Wanda Jackson) song is heard as a slowed down version for the movie. The characters’ faces are gradually approached, and the circular motion of the camera ends when Eve finally opens her eyes. At the same time, the song has ended.
With the effect of the rotating camera and the music, the opening scene of the movie resembles the rotation of a record. This points to the cyclical understanding of time. Thus, this scene shows how time can work for vampires who have lived and are living for centuries. From the opening scene, we realize a sense of time that has no beginning and no end.
It should not be forgotten that vampires are creatures that can only live in the dark of night. The characters sometimes walk hand in hand on the street at night. They drive through deserted streets. They discuss must-see places in Detroit, where Adam lives. They also go to an underground rock club and listen to music.
This is the best part of Only Lovers Left Alive. With night and darkness, social rules become less functional. In Adam’s words, people have become “zombies”. In the daytime, they are zombies who are the rulers of world affairs undertaken in the light. There is no place for social roles, traditions, distribution of work and duties at night. When night falls, the zombies have no function. Thus, vampires tend to different jobs than zombies. He plays chess during the day, enjoys browsing through the pages of books, enjoys the feeling of an old cloth on his skin. These moments turn into the moment when time almost stops.
Places in Jim Jarmusch’s Films:
In Jim Jarmusch’s films, human life is reflected in simplicity. The places take on an identity that integrates with the characters and becomes an inseparable part of them. In the absence of characters, these places create a sad and at the same time creepy feeling. Even an object that has just been sat on creates this feeling. This place appears as a prison cell in Down by Law (1986), as the city of Memphis in Mystery Train (1989), and as a tiny apartment in New York in Stranger Than Paradise (1984).
The texture of two different cities that make up the atmosphere of Only Lovers Left Alive comes to the fore: Tangier (Morocco) and Detroit (USA). The cities merge with the highlights of the different characters of the two vampires. We follow Adam’s lonely life in Detroit, away from the desolate and residential areas. In the next scene, we watch Eve walking through the narrow and illuminated authentic streets of the touristic city of Morocco. Meanwhile, an oriental music fills our ears, which is quite different from the electronic guitar sounds that suit the secluded streets of Detroit.
Then Eve enters a cafe and waits for Marlowe to arrive. In the meantime, she watches the occupations of the people sitting around her, playing games and talking, with great curiosity and pleasure. This situation is very different from the security cameras that Adam has placed around his house, even if a car sounds from outside. Thus, the first part of the movie helps us to understand the characters and their differences. In fact, the following telephone conversation between the two vampires seems to sum up what I’m trying to convey:
Adam: “It’s the zombies and the way they treat the world. I just feel like all the sand’s at the bottom of the hourglass or something.”
Eve: “Time to turn it over then.”
Cities stand out on their own with their cultural texture, music and artists. This situation sometimes takes place in a dimension that exceeds the characters. For example, the Michigan Theater visited at night in Detroit, where destructive zombies turn it into a car park, is an example. The house where Jack White spent his childhood again highlights these textures. Or the appealing feeling of Yasmine Hamdan’s glamorous music while standing by a wall in Tangier, for example…
In Only Lovers Left Alive, the appreciation of art and artist is very felt. Adam is passionately making music in his house, which he almost turned into a studio. Eve, on the other hand, is so attached to literature that she takes two suitcases of books with her on her way to Detroit. Moreover, the appearance of Christopher Marlowe as an old vampire played by John Hurt is a culmination of intellectual pleasure. All these glorify art as one of the only values that vampires who have lived for centuries care about the world. However, it should not be understood that the art and the artist are taken to a divine, inaccessible level in the film. On the contrary, it is the field of work of vampires who have been on the ground for a long time, destined to remain earthly. Art is positioned within the film as the source of his passions.
Music in “Only Lovers Left Alive”:
In the middle of Only Lovers Left Alive, Eve luckily finds the gun that Adam bought to commit suicide and says to Adam:
“How can you have lived for so long and still not get it? This self obsession is a waste of living, It could be spent surviving things, appreciating nature, nurturing kindness and friendship, and dancing. You have been pretty lucky in love though, if I may say so.”
Even the vampires who witnessed the foundation of civilization are sometimes unable to find answers on how to live life in the best way possible. Because there is a different view from the concept of vampire that we are used to in the movie. The movie doesn’t offer us the lure of being immortal. We see that a slice of life is reflected without being idealized. Although they are condemned to live in the world, we see that they cannot fully integrate with the world. This situation turns into an inextricable tragedy for vampires. Despite all this, Only Lovers Left Alive is also a call to life. But it is a call to a life that flows slowly, where there is repetition and encounter, where the beauty of small details and unplanned moments is blessed.
Last modified: September 24, 2023