Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive: Cultured Vampirism

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Vampire of the Coast (1909); Alice Hollister in The Vampire (1913); Bela Lugosi as Dracula
The history of vampire films dates back to the era of silent films with Vampire of the Coast (1909), cited as “the first silent vampire film,” though it’s actually a pirate film and has nothing to do with vampires. Several years later came Italian-American director Robert Vignola’s The Vampire (1913), a 38-minute silent vamp melodrama which did not include undead bloodsucking fiends but ‘vamps’, which were femmes fatales inspired by a 1897 Rudyard Kipling poem called “The Vampire,” written as kind of commentary on a painting of a female vampire by Philip Burne-Jones exhibited in the same year.
Only Lovers Left Alive poster image — Tom Hiddleston & Tilda Swinton; on set — actors Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, director Jim Jarmusch
Fast forward to present day to experience American independent film director extraordinaire Jim Jarmusch’s latest masterwork, Only Lovers Left Alive, a sensually languid vampire tale set against the romantic desolation of Detroit and Tangiers, which Indiewire recently touted as “The Only Vampire Movie You Need to See.” Jarmusch manages to transport you into an atmosphere of cultured decadence and debauchery, and when the film ends you have to jump back out somehow.

Adam (Tom Hiddleston), an underground musician living in a decrepit Detroit Victorian—deeply dismayed by the direction of contemporary human activities—reunites with his irrepressibly stylish, well-read, and enigmatic lover Eve (Tilda Swinton), following her arrival from Tangiers by way of Paris. Their love story has already endured multiple centuries, but their debauched utopia is soon disrupted by Eve’s wild and uncontrollable younger sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska).

 Scenes from Only Lovers Left Alive with Tilda Swinton; “Lovers” Tilda Swinton & Tom Hiddleston

Ava is out to party and doesn’t have much respect for Adam and Eve’s more refined approach to vampirism—which includes no longer draining the blood of humans since humans are “polluted.” They get their disease-free vials of fresh plasma from such sources as hospitals (biting necks these days is way too unsanitary), and swigging the precious gore from finely-cut sherry snifters.

This is Swinton’s third film with Jarmusch, acting in his last two features, The Limits of Control and Broken Flowers, and to echo what Devin Faraci from Badass Digest said about the film, “They can stop making vampire films now, because Jim Jarmusch has made the ultimate one. Only Lovers Left Alive takes the vampire as poet, as rock star, as junkie, as morose philosopher, as doomed lover to a place of such absolute perfection that any further examination of the type seems a waste of time.” 
Featured in MIFF 2014’s Cinema 360° presented by Viendomovies program this past March, Only Lovers Left Alive makes its Miami commercial debut on Friday, May 9th.  —Tatyana Chiocchetti

Jaie Laplante

Jaie Laplante is the Miami Film Festival's executive director and director of programming. Learn more about Jaie on Programmers.