From the first frames, Jim Jarmusch’s 2014 film, Only Lovers Left Alive, juxtaposes the cycle of the eternal with the ephemeral. Night-sky stars transition into an endlessly rotating vinyl record. Bird’s-eye views of the eternal lovers Adam and Eve spin into and out of each other. The desolate, decaying Detroit is contrasted with the physically deteriorating yet vibrant Tangier. New and old technology, rock and classical music, vampires and humans: all represent past and present; life and death – two seemingly opposed yet entangled sides of one element. The lovers are exuberant and restrained – Eve displays childlike fascination with everything and Adam gloomy rejection of life itself. In a sequence that takes place before Eve travels to Detroit, she sensually dances to Adam’s music. He is recording in his house studio as his song transitions from diegetic to extra-diegetic music, and image and sound melt into each other to transcend space and time, connecting the lovers. As the paradigmatic elements of Einstein’s entanglement theory, which is a recurrent theme in the film, Adam and Eve are intertwined even when continents apart. Their eternal love defies ephemeral humanity and corrosion, and triumphs in the cycle of life and death.
Detroit’s architectural decay is a physical expression of Adam’s apathy and his disdain for humanity’s destructive tendencies. Humans, whom he calls zombies, have not only managed to contaminate their water but also their own blood. Lingering in the past, Adam can only admire what has been lost, refusing Eve’s continuous turn of the hourglass and embrace of the present. His passion solely awakens as he talks of forgotten centuries or vanished beauty. When he takes Eve to the now derelict and sadly re-appropriated “famous Michigan Theater”, they marvel at its lost splendor. Low-angle shots of the faded luxurious ceiling are accompanied by Adam’s sorrowful recounting of the theater’s history. Built in the 1920s it stands on the exact same spot where Henry Ford first built automobiles. In its prime, the theater could seat over 4,000 people for concerts and movie showings. Adam states that “mirrors used to reflect the chandeliers” and as the camera perpetually caresses the remains of the theater’s walls the audience is transported to the bright lights, ordained mirrors, elegant guests and splendid entertainment of the past. When the camera slowly pans down to reveal Adam and Eve in the center of the dark and desolate building, it leaves this past to descend into the present: now the former theater is merely a car park. This architectural decline not only illustrates Adam’s longing for bygone elegance but also demonstrates Detroit’s economic bankruptcy.
Only Eve recognizes the city’s ambivalent landscape. Its desolate streets are seemingly devoid of all life. Yet, as she joyfully discovers throughout her stay, it is filled with wild animals and plants that should not be there. Just like Adam and Eve’s lives are intertwined – his apathy and her fascination forever connected – so too are industrial ruin and thriving nature. Eve’s driving force throughout the film finds beauty in destruction and recognizes that one has to adapt to the eternal cycle of life and death. Broken records that will never spin again and contaminated waters are a part of the city. For Eve, a smashed guitar reveals its inner beauty and the Spanish Inquisition was fun – and Detroit will rise again.