Lovers Throughout the Centuries

“My main inspiration for this film, which isn’t referred to anywhere, is Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Adam and Eve. I’m a big Mark Twain fan, but that’s maybe my favorite book of his. ”

Jim Jarmusch

 
 

 
 

Only Lovers Left Alive is a 2013 British-German vampire film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, and starring Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, and Jeffrey Wright.

Married for centuries and now living half a world apart, two vampires wake as the sun goes down. The only solace he finds from miserable modernity is Eve. Lovers throughout the centuries, the two would be soul mates – if only they had souls. Adam sits holding a lute, in his cluttered Detroit Victorian , as Eve wakes up in her bedroom in Tangier, surrounded by books. Acting like addicts, blood for them is a drug that provides a wave of euphoria as well as sustenance. They are dependent on local suppliers of the “good stuff”, fearing contamination from blood poisoned by the degradation of the environment. Adam visits a local blood bank in the dead of night, masquerading as “Dr. Faust”, paying “Dr. Watson” for his coveted O negative, while Eve relies on their old friend Christopher Marlowe, who faked his death in 1593 and lives under the protection of a local man.

After influencing the careers of countless famous musicians and scientists, Adam has become withdrawn and suicidal. His desire to connect through his music is at odds with the danger of recognition as well as his contempt for the corrupt and foolish humans he refers to as “zombies”. He spends his days recording his compositions on outdated studio equipment and lamenting the state of the modern world whilst collecting vintage instruments. He pays Ian, a naive human “rock and roll kid”, to procure vintage guitars and other assorted curiosities, including a custom-made bullet with a brass casing and a wooden tip. Having acquired substantial scientific knowledge over the years, the vampire has managed to build contraptions to power both his home and vintage sports car with technology originally pioneered by Nikola Tesla.

The film is one of several Jarmusch productions, alongside films such as Night on Earth, in which the action mainly occurs at night-time. Swinton stated after the film’s release: “Jim is pretty much nocturnal, so the nightscape is pretty much his palette. There’s something about things glowing in the darkness that feels to me really Jim Jarmusch. He’s a rock star.”

The film’s greatest triumph is how it manages to avoid and subvert the clichés surroundings vampire folklore. The v-word is never mentioned, and in a playful twist, it is the humans who are derisively referred to by Adam and Eve as “the zombies”. The two of them are cultural snobs, looking down upon humans as mindless beings who go about their days without a thought to the finer things in life.

It’s a personal take on how Jarmusch himself must feel. A film-maker who has built his hipster reputation as an independent New York artist working outside the mainstream, those like him who devote their time to the counter-culture will always feel isolated from the rest of the world. In Adam and Eve’s tender relationship he has made his warmest film yet, a movie with the message that the price of genius doesn’t have to be loneliness if you find a loving kindred spirit.

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The Terror of Lust

“Don’t let yourself die without knowing the wonder of fucking with love.”
Gabriel García Márquez
Memories of My Melancholy Whores

 
 

Wasserschlangen I or Freundinnen I (Water Serpents I), 1904 Gustav Klimt’s painting on the book cover of the English version of 眠れる美女

 
 

House of the Sleeping Beauties is a 1961 novella by the Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata. A story about a lonely man, Old Eguchi, who continuously visits the House of the Sleeping Beauties in hope of something more. As the great Japanese writer Yukio Mishima expresses it perfectly in his introduction, this book is a pregnant reflection on ‘the terror of lust by the approach of death.’

Memories of My Melancholy Whores, Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s last written work, has some similarities to Kawabata’s short novel, which Marquez even quotes in the epigraph:

 

“He was not to do anything in bad taste, the woman of the house warned old Eguchi. He was not to put his finger into the mouth of the sleeping girl, or try anything else of that sort.”

 

Kawabata’s book is about an old man who watches sleeping young women and feels himself overwhelmed by desire for them. Marquez’s book is about an even older man who first desires a sleeping young woman, and then feels himself overwhelmed by platonic love. Thus, Marquez inverts Kawabata’s painful yearning into a sentimental fantasy.

And of course he replaces Kawabata’s old man with the typical Marquez protagonist. Marquez protagonists are men who invariably possess amazing virility, miraculous longevity, and larger-than-life charisma. They are never good-looking, but they can always get any woman they want. In this book, the protagonist explains that he had been with 514 different women by the age of fifty. It is also typical for Marquez to give the exact number. It’s not enough for his character to have had great success with the ladies, he has to have had exactly 514 of them. Marquez did this exact thing in Love In The Time Of Cholera, where Florentino Ariza filled some similarly huge number of notebooks with descriptions of his romantic conquests.

In 1982 Gabriel García Márquez wrote a story, Sleeping Beauty and the Airplane, in which Kawabata is specifically alluded to. Seated in the first-class cabin of an airplane crossing the Atlantic beside a young woman of extraordinary beauty who sleeps throughout the flight, García Márquez’s narrator is reminded of Kawabata’s novel. As a work of fiction the “Sleeping Beauty” story is undeveloped, no more than a sketch. Perhaps for this reason, García Márquez feels free to reuse its basic situation —the no longer young admirer side by side with the sleeping girl— in Memories of My Melancholy Whores.

House of the Sleeping Beauties is a study of the activities of eros in the mind of a sensualist of an intensive and self-aware kind, acutely—perhaps morbidly—sensitive to odors and fragrances and nuances of touch, absorbed by the physical uniqueness of the women he is intimate with, prone to brood on images from his sexual past, not afraid to confront the possibility that his attraction toward young women may screen desire for his own daughters, or that his obsession with women’s breasts may originate in infantile memories.

 
 

FILM ADAPTATIONS

 
 

Das Haus der schlafenden Schönen (Vadim Glowna, 2006)

 
 

Sleeping Beauty (Julia Leigh, 2011). The film is based in part on the novel House of the Sleeping Beauties. In writing the script, Leigh drew from several literary inspirations— Yasunari Kawabata’s novella; Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; a story in The Bible in which King David as an old man spends the evening alongside sleeping virgins; and the eponymous fairytales by Charles Perrault and The Brothers Grimm. She also noted the phenomenon of images of sleeping girls on the internet, presumably in somnophilia pornography. Mia Wasikowska was originally cast as Lucy but she dropped out when offered the title role in the adaption of Jane Eyre.