Everyone in the audience loved Plautus, Septimus’ little tortoise, in our student theater production of Arcadia. They loved Plautus, the director told me one night, because the actor playing Septimus loved Plautus. He bestowed small moments of love on him throughout the play — pretending to feed him little slivers of apple, sharing looks, acknowledge him before he left the table — and we fell in love with both of them.
There are few movies I love as much as Only Lovers Left Alive. I mean really love, love in this unconditional bone-deep way, blood-deep, forever and ever. And I’m pretty sure it’s because of that wonderful Plautus property: we love watching people love. Eve and Adam love each other, unconditional bone-deep blood-deep forever and ever, and so I love them that way.
And I do believe what lets their love sing through so clear and strong is the same thing that built Septimus’ love for his paperweight pet. Our deathless couple show their love not so much through grand gestures, although Eve does fly halfway across the world to get to Adam at one point, but in a beautiful accumulation of casual, honest affection. They lie around and listen to music, they play chess and eat blood popsicles, they drive through night-drawn Detroit and idly chat about sleeping cities and Jack White and a diamond planet up in space that emits the sound of a gigantic gong. They dance together in the living room. They just try to sleep in a bit, please. Their love is actually shown, not just stated. More than any movie I’ve seen, their relationship is allowed to breathe, which is rather ironic as they’re vampires. Maybe their eternalness is what gives them this privilege of getting time in their own story to love each other.
Perhaps it’s a little odd that my dearest comfort film is a Jim Jarmusch vampire flick where not much even happens, but perhaps not. For something that stars two cool-skinned creatures of the night, it is the most warmly humanist movie I have ever seen. It’s stylish to the bone, yet none of those bones have a lick of cynicism. And it’s funny — pitch black, droll, arch yet affectionately so. A typical scene: Eve reclines on Adam’s ornate shabby sofa, her head in his lap, surrounded by his ramshackle collection of instruments and speakers and dishevel-tude. “I love what you’ve done with the place,” she remarks, and he places his whole hand over her face. They both laugh.
Describing this movie to a friend recently, I didn’t mention the plot once, and instead found myself just offering a list of charming facts about it — like how they fondly call plants and animals by their Latinate scientific names, or that one of the vampires is Kit Marlowe and wrote the complete works of Shakespeare. It was as if I hoped to find one detail that would manage to communicate the whole thing, one treasure that tells the shape of the chest. But I’ve come to the idea that perhaps the appreciation of the assembly is the point of Only Lovers Left Alive, and the point the movie is making about life itself. The Small Good Thing Theory of the Universe. That should probably be Eve’s philosophical epithet, to match Adam’s romantic Spooky Action At a Distance. Eve is the one most purely lit by wonder for the world, and I feel it’s telling that she’s also the one who is most fluent in survival. What it means to survive, what to survive for.
I don’t want to get too grand here, but honestly if there were only one movie left at the end of everything? Well we could do a lot worse than the message of living and love in this one.
Plus, it’s got a killer soundtrack.