It is not so much boredom as ennui—spiritual and intellectual malaise—that Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) addresses. Its main characters have lived for at least 400 years and have, unless something goes especially wrong, every prospect of living another 400 years. They are vampires, but have long since abandoned seeking sustenance from the necks of hapless victims, a practice they regard with disdain. Instead they make arrangements with local hospitals or blood banks. Partially as a result, perhaps, their lives lack drama. They try to stay out of sight. They want to be anonymous. Despite the fact that they are vampires and thus immortal, they need meaning in their
loves. One finds it through serving as a ghost composer for various famous composers. At the time of the film, he’s a famously reclusive rock star. Another seeks it through living a life of elegance in Tunisia. A third is Christopher Marlowe. Yes, that Christopher Marlowe, the author of the tragedy of Dr. Faustus. He’s bitter that his need to stay in hiding has deprived him of recognition as the real author of Shakespeare’s plays. All these vampires see themselves as lovers of fine things, of high culture, of the arts. They’re romantics, or failed romantics. One is so tired of his life that he’s considering rash actions, even suicide. What can bring him back?
Vampires bore me. The fact that they prove so fascinating to contemporary culture is a sign of something wrong with contemporary culture. But director Jim Jarmusch does a wonderful job in this film of depicting their lives in textured and wry detail. This may be my favorite among his films. These are not comic book vampires, not teenage icons. They are living undead humans.
It’s the end of this film that disappointed, if ever so slightly, for its surrender to the conventions that for the most part it had successfully avoided