In Jim Jarmusch’s world, vampires aren’t opportunistic, blood-sucking ghouls—at least not all of them. Some are alert, intuitive beings who, because they’ve been alive for centuries, have formed certain attachments to the physical culture around them—to the papery certainty of a book’s pages as you turn them, or to a record that you put on a turntable, the better to sink into its grooves, as opposed to letting it wash over you in a watery Spotify sea. In Only Lovers Left Alive, a morose musician named Adam (played by a wanly gorgeous Tom Hiddleston), holed up in a decrepit but stately Detroit Victorian, longs to see his wife of several hundred years, who has her own digs in Tangiers. (Perhaps separate living quarters are the key to a 300-year marriage.) She is Tilda Swinton’s Eve, resplendent as a moonbeam, and in her devotion to her longtime love, she wastes no time hopping a night flight carrying only the essentials—they happen to be books—and crosses the ocean to bring some sensible cheer to her husband, who has had it with human beings and “their fear of their own imaginations.”
Jarmusch’s vampires are people who know the Latin names of flora and fauna, who see the beauty of a tattered velvet dressing gown and appreciate the stripy majesty of skunks. At age 16, Emily Dickinson wrote in a letter to a friend, “Let us strive together to part with time more reluctantly, to watch the pinions of the fleeting moment until they are dim in the distance and the new coming moment claims our attention.” She saw the modern world coming. But she would have been right at home with Jarmusch’s vampires, lingering in the present as a way of keeping their bond with the past.
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