That is the easiest way to sum up this film. Two words. There need be no spoiler alerts because there is nothing to spoil. If you go into this film expecting some grand narrative you will be disappointed. This isn't a film in the general sense of the word, at least what we've come to expect of one. I am not saying there is no story. There is.
Though it would almost be easier to refer to this film as a painting. Each scene, each small detail, each fleeting conversation another brush stroke against the canvas.
It is the story of three vampires. Two vampires in love. A third, the sister of one of the lovers. The story is small. It is ridiculously small. It is such a small part of the film that you could spend the first half wondering if there will be a story at all.
That is the mastery of Jim Jarmusch, who both wrote and directed this film. As with his other films, whether you are thinking of Broken Flowers or Dead Man, if you wait around for the narrative you miss the beauty in the small details and the sweeping idea that is used as the backdrop to the whole film. The story of the film is not the story that is taking place between the characters, it is a grander theme.
It is hard to imagine what it would be like to live forever. Many people dream of it, the idea that we would never part from this bodily existence. We dream of all of the things we would do if we had the time. What he paints in this film is what the idea of living forever would really mean. Using the myth of the vampire he plays with the concept of eternal life, of the slow and grinding passage of time. How would the small things change if there was no passage of time, if you could grasp onto things for centuries at a time? How would your thoughts change? How would you look at the world?
What would become of love?
It takes place in two, what seem, very different locales. One is Tangier. Tangier was once known as a place where you could do whatever you wanted as long as you weren't committing violence. This was for the fact that the country that ruled over Tangier, Morocco, did not have the resources to police peoples lives. It is where so many poets and artists flocked. William Burroughs most famously.
The second place was Detroit. If the significance is not instantly apparent, it is because Detroit has come to the same destination as Tangier once was. The government of Detroit does not have the power or the resources to police and enforce the rules of law upon the residents.
These two places make the perfect canvas for this film.
There is no time spent on special effects. There are no useless scenes created to explain vampires to the viewer. When you go into this film it is expected you understand what a vampire is. Though the film has a very droning passage of time not a moment of the film is wasted on filler.
As I have stated, this film is about love and time. Like time, love is painted on the canvas without the edition of explaining what love is. Of all the films I have imbibed, not one has drawn out the beauty of love with more care or as delicately. There is no gratuitous sex scenes to show passion, there is no excessive explanations of love to explain love to the viewer. Like the idea of vampires, the idea of love is expected.
They paint love as they paint time. In the most excruciatingly haunting way.
The soundtrack takes much the same direction. It is sparse, beautiful, and comes with moments of chaotic sound that is used, much as everything is in this film, as a brush to further layer the beauty laid out so carefully.
If I recommended films, I would recommend this. More than any other film. It is film, film as an art form.
"I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no melancholy."