“I blame Shelley and Stoker,” says Eve, one of the main vampires in Only Lovers Left Alive. Eerie and existentialist can be perfectly convenient for defining Jim Jarmusch’s cinema. Since his major feature film Stranger Than Paradise, he has been keeping his auteur soul with a filmography dedicated to character development, atmosphere orchestration and visual flamboyance. In Only Lovers Left Alive Jarmusch is putting his two cents in one of the most abused genres in fiction: vampires. The auteur’s take on these non-living blood chuggers is unsurprisingly offbeat and engrossing.
In the center of the plot are two vampire lovers, Eve, who has been living in Tangier, and Adam, a resident of Detroit. When calculated in human years, they are going through their mature years in their relationship, so much that they now live in two separate parts of the world.
A very prominent deviation throughout the film is the comparison of Tangier and Detroit. So far from each other that there is not even a direct flight between, these two cities represent more than the flat and expected East versus West comparison. Detroit with all of its long gone heydays floating around the abandoned buildings like a dead soul stands out as a perfect nest for Adam, who with his moodiness and ‘tiredness’ strikes as the perfect symbol of hopelessness and undue melancholy. Once the monument of productivity and and force for a whole nation, Detroit is now a dead city waiting for the unknown, similar to a vampire, or Adam himself to be more specific, who is doomed to immortality and endless sojourn on Earth.
Tangier on the other hand is depicted as a stage-like city, where the life and the light are, and where Eve resides with her spark and vividness. Unlike Adam who acquires his blood supply from a sterile hospital, Eve gets her daily dose from a wise old man named Christopher Marlowe (who, expectedly, bashes Shakespeare for plagiarism) at the back of a hookah bar. A city that has been a home for the likes of Henri Matisse and William Burroughs, Tangier represents productivity and liveness that also comes along with its chaos and havoc, similar to a mortal who lives, good or bad, and in the end, dies, making lived moments worthy.
Jarmusch’s description of vampires in the contemporary world is distinguishably apart from similar current day vampire representations. Adam and Eve are soft-core conformists preferring to blend into a ‘mortalnormative’ world. Turning their backs to stereotypes created by Shelley or Stoker, they pursue safer lives in which they buy first class plane tickets or dance to funky soul music, just like any mortal would do.
The intruder to their well structured habitat is Eva, the vagabond and carefree sister of Eve. Representing a fairly stereotypical vampire with her blood thirsty and sex-driven attitude, Eva goes old school with her methods for acquiring blood. Eve’s warning to Eva that this is the 21st century and things are different now doesn’t really keep her from her path.
As every good work of art or literature should be, Only Lovers Left Alive is charged with metaphors that are subtle, but for the ones know how to look, potent. The state Adam and Eve are in the borders of a mortal-dominant world and their semi-intentional and semi-spontaneous assimilation to this world connect with the criticism the post-Stonewall gay community received and has continued to receive due to their alleged attempted assimilation to a hetero-(or homo-) normative lifestyle.
Aside from submission to an idealized consumerist way of living, following the methods of heterosexual dominant structures, such as regarding marriage as a social confirmation, have been the arguments of those who are critical about LGBTQ politics since the 90s. In his book Beyond Shame, Patrick Moore voices his argument on this issue by accusing the gay community of being non-vocal and conformist in contemporary society. Moore comments on the gay community’s fascination towards straight tastes especially in larger cities, similar to Adam and Eve’s tendencies towards ‘mortal’ pleasures to the extent that they reject victimizing mortals for their bloods. Moore states that with the economical power gay communities gain, they have chosen to follow heteronormative lives.Besides the fact that coding certain tendencies or decisions as straight or non-gay is a limiting and ‘otherizing‘ approach, he is missing out one last point, that being the human condition, with all of its ebbs and flows. What’s important not to forget is that human is a human and vampire is a vampire.
An interesting mind you are.