When I do research for these kind of analytical fashion essays, I tend to let my search flow from the way clothing makes me feel before I come up with any kind of thesis. It’s not always the best idea, but it’s how I begin. Jim Jaramusch’s 2013 nouveau vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive struck me as having a good grasp on that peculiar feeling that something is both sad and beautiful, which was a combination I remembered being associated with The Tale of Genji (which I have never read), and eventually the capricious shepherd that is Google led me to the phrase “mono no aware“.
Mono no aware is a Japanese phrase that can be translated to “a sensitivity to ephemera,” things that are only enjoyed for a short time. Something I found interesting about the characters in Only Lovers Left Alive, namely main vampire lovers Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton), was that their immortality intensified the mono no aware they experienced in relation to art, culture, innovation, music, friendships, and other things that wannabe Intelligentsia like me love to ruminate on.
Because the internet allows us to leaf through centuries of information, I can imagine many people identify with what I interpreted as one of the central anxieties of the film: is the best in life behind us, and has the majority of the population lost either their ability or will to recognize good work?
The vampire is one of the more melodramatic figures of mythology (something that probably contributes to how well suited it is for teen dramas), but that doesn’t invalidate the feelings they evoke. Jaramusch’s vampire tale is an elevated take on teenage brooding, like a Shirley Temple with vodka in it.
Read on for a clip of my essay for Fashion x Film on Only Lovers Left Alive, and read the whole thing here.
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If there has been a redemptive moment for the vampire in cinema’s recent history, it can be found in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. A window into the eternal lives of vampire lovers, Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton), the film opens with a shot of a starry night sky swirling into a classic 45 record. A cover of Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love” by Jaramusch’s band SQÜRL & Madeline Follin plays in the background, setting the tone for a film that, in favor of bloodlust, mesmerizes and meanders through aesthetic explorations of beauty and decay.
When we first meet our Only Lovers Left Alive, they have been pushed to opposite ends of the Earth in search of hallowed Bohemian ground. Adam conducts his brooding from an abandoned mansion-turned-music studio in Detroit, while Eve roams the crumbling streets of Tangiers. Adam and Eve are consummate aesthetes who possess centuries of personal experience with history’s greatest cultural phenomena, and the rarity of their appearance provokes both envy and the sensation that their superb taste teeters on extinction. Here, costume designer Bina Daigeler captures a refreshing take on the vampire-as-ambassador for the power and fragility of creative capital-G Genius.