The perfect partner to my other love, Theodor Adorno
It seems to me that the film is the perfect, entertaining and easier to swallow, partner to "Minima Moralia" by Theodor Adrono (see Adorno). This film is one of the best films of 2014. Perhaps one of the best, period. I am certain of that because of the lingering effect it has left. I can’t stop thinking about it even after watching it more than a month ago.
I believe that any truly good thing has an effect which lasts past the moment you are actually confronted with it. While you’re experiencing it, your feelings may be strong but they can also be illusory. Thus, if the effect of something does not waver, it is your moral imperative to acknowledge and think about it.
Anything that inspires you to learn more, know more, live more, enjoy more – all at once – can be classified as a “truly good thing.” This is where the film’s success lies. Jim Jarmusch, the director said in this interview, “if one kid in Kansas gets turned onto William Blake or something then I did my job.” That is a rare objective (i.e. to not seek mass popularity) and I admire Jim Jarmusch not only for having it, but for succeeding in achieving it with this film.
Adorno and the film make many similar points about the private and professional spheres of society. It is increasingly difficult to really enjoy life but not impossible. Artists and intellectuals have become “impoverished in spirit”: they write and make art to make money, to please their audience, thus giving it a power it shouldn't have. According to Adorno, simple dwelling is extinct, an impossible activity in today’s society. The protagonists in “Only lovers left alive” do a lot of dwelling precisely to show that it is indeed possible, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s actually a good thing! The relationship in the film is one which Adorno thinks is impossible in this day and age. The lovers, Adam and Eve, love one another, yet do not “shower” each other with love, nor do they spend each minute together. They are independent, yet loyal. They can survive apart, but knowing that they have each other helps. It is for no other reason, except that feeling that Adorno refers to as “tenderness” that the lovers stay together.
The lovers are exempt from Adorno’s world where people have forgotten to give gifts, and where they are consumed by material “well-being”. For the lovers, money is merely a tool for survival, material things are kept only to fill space and time, and anything lost (i.e. all of Adam’s musical instruments) can be replaced by a thoughtful gift, given by Eve - with love to someone she loves. In “Minima Moralia,” Adorno nostalgically writes of a time when “real giving had its joy in imagining the joy of the receiver” something that now “hardly anyone is able to do.” In our times he continues “there is no longer room for human impulses…the gift is necessarily accompanied by humiliation through its distribution” or, alternatively and a bit more extremely, as Alan Watts puts it, now “expressions of physical love are far more dangerous than expressions of physical hatred”. In “Only lovers left alive” being on the brink of starvation, with nothing but a gift and a lover, does not take away your ability to enjoy a beautiful song in a nearby pub, to live. What more would you need when you are that close to death? At that moment money and things are nowhere to be found, though the lovers had plenty of both at one point. It is actually the lovers’ love of and devotion to “life” that keeps them alive.
A quick, marathon-like listing of some of Adorno’s main themes can be found here.
This movie, like its characters, runs the risk of looking snobby. Yet, like its characters, it’s anything but. Somewhat defending the protagonists of the film, and perhaps himself, Jim Jarmusch said “if you and I were alive for 500, 1,000, 2,000 years, we would certainly appear as snobs to everyone else, because our knowledge and experience would be so much more vast”
The definition of a snob is this “one who tends to patronize, rebuff, or ignore people regarded as social inferiors and imitate, admire, or seek association with people regarded as social superiors; one who affects an offensive air of self-satisfied superiority in matters of taste or intellect.”
The true snob, by definition then, is an empty person whose character is shaped from outside elements, every action is carefully calculated to fit in with this “snob” image. Snobs, create their image looking outwardly, rather than inwardly. In simpler terms, they live for others, not their own joy. Nothing about the definition of a snob points towards experiencing the maximum of life, loving, suffering, learning to become richer for yourself and those who surround you. And that is why Jarmusch mentions "appearing as snobs to everyone else". It is a matter of "appearing", not actually "being".
The protagonists seem snobby to the young sister in the film and to the audience because she/the audience cannot understand them. It is not a “snob” show that they put on. It’s achieving a certain level of knowledge and experience which merely makes it look like that but don’t be fooled. There’s nothing snobby, here. The film is full of knowledge and experience and, as such, cannot immediately appeal to all. It is not affecting an air of superiority, but being who it is, regardless of the audience. And while pushing you to learn, it’s also telling you to love. Those are indeed connected, but showing you their connection while also using vampires is quite e feat. The more I think of the film, the more I’m inspired.
The following review best describes what I thought about the film title's meaning:
In what sense are Adam and Eve “lovers”?
That word defines the two, in fact, not in their arching romance but in their throbbing addiction. It’s entirely at odds with their cool, world-weary exterior, and maybe that’s the point. These two might sip their O negative elegantly, in crystal stemware like a fine liqueur, but there’s nothing elegant about the sudden thirst that overcomes them when they are presented with the sight of blood, as Adam is when he goes to the hospital to get his contraband supply, and Eve is when a neighboring passenger on the plane cuts his finger. This thirst is raw, visceral, irresistible.
To be a “lover” is to know this thirst, to be possessed by it, and to last for an eternity because it does. The title of the film might in fact refer not to Adam and Eve alone, but to a legion of persons just like them, in the grips of an ancient urging and kept forever alive by it. Is this a metaphor for something else — a love of literature, perhaps, or a love of music? It could be. The latter is especially plausible, given the film’s own addiction to its nonstop musical numbers; given the dominant visual conceit of the spinning vinyl record doubling as the rotation of the heavens; and, most of all, given the primordial, show-stopping sounds of the Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan, a fusion of electronica and Arabic that brings the film to its vampiric end.