The line painted between making pure art or using your craft for money is something that divides the filmmaking world. For every Woody Allen, you have a Michael Bay. For every Her, you have a Couples Retreat. For every Super, you have a Captain America. Jim Jarmusch knows this and knows what side of the line he stands on and this isn’t any more apparent than in his latest effort, Only Lovers Left Alive.
For a movie that could be minimized to the synopsis of “Hipster vampires that are in love,” Only Lovers Left Alive spends more time showing the dividing line between loving your craft as an art or as a means of profit more than the romance between Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton). It is also interesting how Jarmusch uses the detail of them being vampires not as a leading trait but as something they just live with.
Only Lovers Left Alive picks up the romance of Adam and Eve with Adam living in Detriot and Eve staying in Tangier. They go about their daily lives with Adam working on songs and Eve walking the streets of Tangier and swapping memories with Marlowe (John Hurt) before the both of them convene to their own special place to get pure blood. After which, all the vampires go into an ecstasy-like state that still has me contemplating what Jarmusch is trying to tell us.
Once Adam and Eve are re-united though, Jarmusch highlights more this split between profit-driven and art-driven work with Adam’s music. Whether it is his source to the outside world Ian (Anton Yelchin) or the group of younger fans stalking his place of living, Adam shows a disdain with associating with what is happening outside of his zone of creativity or how the zombies, as he calls them, are reacting to his work.
It all turns on its head when Eve’s vibrant sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) comes to visit and begins to break the structure that Adam has built. Drinking his blood at will, blasting his songs without permission and dragging the couple out to a hovel breaks them out of the mold that they have been in for so long and creates trouble when it is disrupted.
I think what is most interesting about the points that Jarmusch is trying to make is that it seems to be a one-sided argument coming from the art-driven side. While it comes in the form of a vampire love story, the argument between art-driven work and profit-driven seems to resonate only in the former with the latter never attacking or making its own case through its work. I guess that is a testament to what Jarmusch is preaching that the profit-driven work will never try and steer from the path it has established.
But within the love story, Jarmusch crafts one that lets the audience enter at an interesting point. The two lovers have known each other for centuries now but we enter at a point where the end seems closer than it ever has been. Adam has a gun with a wooden bullet kept away in his house, Marlowe contemplates the end and Eve seems content and not understanding of either men’s desire to end the great run that they have both had.
Maybe Jarmusch is saying something in that. Maybe after doing the same thing for so long, an artist gets tired of their work and wants to move onto the next challenge and end their career. But instead of selling out and making any profit (like Marlowe could do by sharing his identity), they would rather just go out quietly and move away from the craft rather than soil what they’ve done.
While the film can be self-indulgent at times, there is something beautiful in seeing an artist love his craft and be true to it and Jim Jarmusch clearly knows what he wants out of his work, and how he wants to end it.