“How can you have lived for so long and still not get it? This self-obsession, it’s a waste of living…that could be spent on surviving things, appreciating nature, nurturing kindness and friendship…and dancing.
You’ve been pretty lucky in love, though, if I may say so” – Tilda Swinton, Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
One thing about horror, I have come to realize, is we seem to remember our first encounter with those films more so than any other genre. With that being said, I distinctly remember the first time I heard of what is now my favorite Valentine’s Day movie, Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) by Jim Jarmusch:
The setting: The Ohio University English Department Master’s teaching assistant (T.A.) office, February 2017
Me: *fangirling over Tom Hiddleston while drinking a matcha berry latte*
My friend, also a T.A. at the time: “Hey Jordan, have you seen that movie where Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are both vampires?”
Me, immediately ripping the cardboard sleeve off my cup and fanning myself with it: “No, I have NOT!”
So yeah, I hunted it down in the university library and watched it right away.
A film that was once completely unknown to me has become one of my favorite films of all time. For this blog’s first Valentine’s Day, I wanted to write about a horror or cult film that focused on romance; with its romantic atmosphere and its believable depictions of love, no film fits better than Only Lovers Left Alive.
The film follows several nights in the lives of Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), a married vampire couple whose relationship began an indeterminate number of years before. They are living apart at the beginning of the movie: Adam is a musician in Detroit, and Eve lives in Tangier, on the other side of the world. They reunite in Adam’s cluttered Victorian house after Eve sees how depressed Adam has become in their conversations. They reconnect seamlessly regardless of their distance. What follows is a “slice of life”-type story (no particular plot or storyline) that shows how deep Adam and Eve’s connection runs and how they have grown together in an ever-changing world.
While the film depicts the positive aspects of their relationship, the viewers also see its challenges. Eve remains enchanted by the life of vampirism and carries that positivity and gratitude with her, but Adam has begun to lose interest in the new world they live in. We learn from Eve that Adam is a much younger vampire than she is. She uses her experiences throughout history to show Adam how big the world is and how many opportunities there are for them to start something new. She is patient and understanding with Adam in his state, and she helps him even when she is frustrated with how he has become. This example is one of my favorite aspects of this story: while still romantic and aspirational, it shows no situation is perfect all the time.
To discuss this film, I have to mention the artistic choices that we see. Not surprisingly, the entire film takes place at night. Most of the film takes place in Adam’s house in Detroit, which is filled with his musical instruments and equipment, records, books, and paintings of influential people (scientists, writers, etc.) he has known over the years. In fact, most spaces inhabited in this film are cluttered in such a way, demonstrating all they have collected in their lifetimes and the comfort they take in enjoying it. This film also has one of my favorite combinations of art direction and music I have seen. The consistently dim lighting paired with the hypnotic music create a dark but romantic experience that perfectly reflects the moody vibe of the characters and the story as a whole. Check out the opening scene below to see what I mean:
I love so many horror films that deserve a larger audience, and Only Lovers Left Alive is at the top of that list. This is a beautiful film with captivating performances and art direction; it is a viewing experience never to be forgotten. I am not one for romances (hence the horror fixation), but when the mood strikes me, this is the first love story I pick up. The relationship Adam and Eve present in this film is effortless, comfortable, and still romantic. As jaded and cynical as I can be, this is a fictional love story that makes me believe in that possibility.
No matter how you celebrate, Happy Valentine’s Day! I will now continue to eat my weight in candy hearts.
Until next time,