Only Lovers Left Alive (2014) – Jim Jarmusch


Jarmusch is folding unto himself. He is re-examining his past works and setting forth his important themes to come.

It seems to me that he is concerned with artists, of any kind really, but mostly musical. How do they create deep worlds? What is their temperament?

So if you’re going to tackle the topic of artistic creation, you have to go down the path of addiction. You have to consider the organic.

The first bold statement the film makes is that artists are vampires.  It”s not cool, but it’s true, isn’t it? Artists absorb the world, they eat it all up, only to spew it out again.

Take Jack White who is referenced more than once in this story. He has been struggling for many years with the problem of authenticity in popular music. His work is a series of experiments on taking from the past and creating in the present. Jarmusch does something similar.

The film is abound with early rockabilly references. Rockabilly is a psychedelic mix of soul, gospel, r&b, blues, and electricity. Jack White has been mining it for years, and here we get two important references: Wanda Jackson and Charlie Feathers.

So what propels an artist to create? Surely different times produce different artists. Jarmusch’s vision of eternal vampires is therefore pure fantasy. Today’s artists are more like Jarmusch himself–they are essayists. They are concerned with history, their own personal history, as well as the history of their art. They are theorists, and researchers.

Hence why this story feels like a non-story. It is an essay. And here are its main points:

  • Artistic creation involves the artist as a vampiric being. There is no morality in his world. There are extreme versions of this immorality, but essentially the artist is transgressive. In the story here, they kill a human, and bury him (or throw him in the lake). Dead bodies disposal.
  • The temperament of the artist is melancholic. The artist suffers from depression and has suicidal thoughts. The image of a wooden bullet, like the one Adam orders custom made is apt. A wooden bullet will never kill you. They were used as practice slugs by the Germans in WW2. They sting, but you won’t die.
  • The artist receives moral support from his lover. The artist is allowed to indulge in his whims, to grapple with his thoughts just like a philosopher would. The lover does not challenge him. She supports, and surveils. This is not your regular (flawed) notions of romance. It is some kind of partnership, collaborative reasoning.
  • The environment the artist finds himself in has a direct influence on his creation. Here we have Detroit, which is of particular interest because of its rock, and soul history. We have the Michigan Theater, as a haunted place full of quantum activity.
  • The artist is also a scientist. The theory of quantum entanglement shows up in the story. I have nothing to say about this except that mathematicians and abstract scientists are developing new logical tools based on the theory. Quantum logic is part of the future.

But how does the film fare as a film? Not too well. I fear it only works if you can see it as the first part of a trilogy. He is laying the foundation for his next projects. One of which is a documentary on Detroit rock superstar Iggy Pop.

You can’t be the drug, and the essay about its effects, at the same time.  Except for Gaspar Noe’s Enter The Void where he was both. But that might be a French/Latin thing (Noé is Argentinian and French).


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