Only Lovers Left Alive – Film Review

Only Lovers Left Alive  (Jim Jarmusch, 2014, United States)

Vampire movies may be somewhat difficult for eucharistically-minded Catholics to stomach. As some scholars and critics have observed, these films evoke the notion of Christ’s eternal life-giving precious blood and reduce it to an earthbound “bloodsucking” that extends life through murder and violence.1 The holy is made unholy and given a romantic allure. This is generally not the kind of thing lovers of the Eucharist would be attracted to. And Jim Jarmusch’s new vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive certainly draws from this tradition. Blood is consumed in this film with an almost insatiable ecstatic reverence. However, despite this unsettling genre convention, rarely has a vampire movie proved to be quite so thoughtful.

Only Lovers Left Alive centers upon the marriage of two vampires, the reclusive musician Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and the inquisitive Eve (Tilda Swinton). And despite the unfortunate names the director has saddled them with, their relationship is a compelling one. Their marriage has lasted for centuries and their fondness for each other has not diminished. They don’t stalk the night looking for prey, but rather pass the long hours of darkness with great literature and meaningful conversation. Their blood comes from a hospital, not from innocent victims, and their time is spent in relative peace. She still delights in his creativity as he writes music and experiments with different technologies. He is still intrigued and challenged by her perspective on existence and can’t manage to beat her at chess. Most impressive is their complete sense of ease in one another’s company. They share their thoughts, experiences, and memories, memories that stretch far back through history. They have experienced generations. They have experienced the vicissitudes of time, and their love remains.

Fear and violence still appear, as one would expect of a horror film. Death and the macabre still hover around the edges of the film. Surprisingly, however, under all of its moody music, crumbling cityscapes, and fashionable cynicism, Only Lovers Left Alive actually strikes a note that is quite traditional. Love is forever and two people cannot only be committed to each other for a lifetime, but their lives can be better for it. To find such a story in the veneer of an art-house vampire film is a rare treat, even rarer perhaps than O negative blood.

1. Cf. http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2012/05/vampire-stories-and-the-real-presence accessed May 23, 2014.