Culture & Society

Other Loves: What Happens When Vampires Fall In Love?

Vampires and zombies have no respite. Their search for connection continues for centuries. And then there is unrequited love—an ache that smoulders for a lifetime

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A Slow-burning Fire: Screengrab from Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood For Love, cinema’s most touching ode to love
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Love is a mystery. A puzzle, a paradox. Opposites attract. Eternal love promises eternity, but often comes with an expiry date. Love kills, love cures; love can be cruel to be kind. Poets, philosophers, psychologists, saints, matchmakers keen to make a quick buck—have all tried to solve this mystery from the moment Adam and Eve were kicked out of Heaven. Reams of poetry written. Mountains of prose piled up. Operas belted out. Pages and pages of research filed and footnoted. And yet, the answer stays out of our reach much like the riddle Meatloaf left behind for us: “I would do anything for love/But I won’t do that.” Anyone with a beating heart who has heard that Meatloaf song walks the earth haunted by one question: what does “that” stand for? What exactly is the “that” he wouldn’t do for love? Who can say for sure! Meatloaf is gone, leaving us guessing.

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Luckily, not all riddles are left unsolved. Not all of them have to nag us this Valentine’s week. Dying to know what happens when vampires fall in love? Watch Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. The love story of deeply depressed Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and a slightly less pessimistic Eve (Tilda Swinton) is centuries old. Adam is about 500 (not in human years, obviously!), and Eve, 3,000. The two have loved and lived for so long that they know how to appreciate the finer things in life—music, literature, science. Adam is an underground musician who thinks humans are a lost cause. He calls them ‘zombies’ who are blind to everything that is worth seeing. “I’m sick of it,” Adam says. “These zombies, what they’ve done to the world, their fear of their own imaginations.”

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Eve hasn’t given up on mortals yet, but she too despairs about the future of a planet ravaged by human greed. Everything is tainted. The air, unbreathable; water, a commodity over which wars will be fought. Their shared despair and flashes of insight keep Adam and Eve in love. Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux lights every frame like a painting—the light glimmers, the night lingers—lush, moody, otherworldly. The lovers languish, holding on to each other as humans hurtle towards progress, and eventual doom. The world around the vampires is not destined to last, but the film assures us that the couple’s love will endure.

The conservative world the LOVERS live in keeps turning while the TWO suffer in silence. “If you can’t fix it, you’ve got to stand it,” they chant, as the weight of the secret crushes their souls.

Though not as self-aware or tongue-in-cheek as Jarmusch’s film, the Twilight saga (based on the books by Stephanie Meyer), also keeps you hooked to the love lives of vampires. In Forks, a small town in Washington state where nothing earthshaking ever happens, Bella Swan (smokey-eyed Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen (a strong and silent Robert Pattinson) fall in love. The course of true love is not meant to run smooth of course, especially if one of the lovers happens to be a 108-year-old vampire. Cullen the vampire and Bella the lovelorn human walk a rocky path—they must face hostile vampire covens, escape from the tracker vampires stalking Bella, and decide if Bella’s longing to be turned into a vampire will make or break them as a couple as time goes by. Their bond is tested so many times, in both human and supernatural ways. But love manages to find a way in the end.

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In Brian Stoker’s Dracula, the lusty vampire wanders around, on the lookout for women to prey on. He is a predator and a seducer, but also a lost being who believes that blood, the “source of all passion”, has the power to give back a vampire his soul. His longing for Mina lives on for centuries. His search for connection continues forever. When filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola adapted Stoker’s novel for the screen, he created a Dracula who was more of a fallen angel in search of love and salvation than a bloodthirsty monster.

What about zombies? Going by the movies, they are dealt a tough hand. Love will not let them be. No resting in peace for them. No respite from the heart’s demands. In Warm Bodies, based on Isaac Marion’s novel of the same name, R (Nicholas Hoult)—a dazed survivor of a zombie apocalypse—falls for Julie (Teresa Palmer). R slowly comes alive as his love for Julie deepens. He becomes human; wounded and vulnerable, risking everything to get closer to Julie. In Cole Schreiber’s film Rest, a young soldier killed in WWI war rises from the grave 90 years later to search for his beloved. His longing for her is as intensely felt as if he were human, and as he journeys home, his commitment raises a barrage of questions about the fickleness of human fidelity.

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Return of the Living Dead III has grief-stricken Curt (Trevor Edmonds) bring his girlfriend Julie (Melinda Walker) back to life after she dies in an accident. A desperate Curt uses his father’s military experiment to return Julie to the world of the living. Since the experiment is designed to convert corpses into zombies who are used as weapons of war (suspend disbelief, please), Julie the zombie craves human flesh. Curt’s hopes of taking up where they had left off are shattered, but he loves her till the bitter end even in her zombie avatar.

There is the love of the undead. The longing that returns, life after life. The longing that outlives the grave. And then there is unrequited love that has no hope of having a life—a love that haunts, an ache that smoulders, a love whose name cannot be taken. Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood For Love, cinema’s most touching (and stylishly shot) ode to unrequited love, is a slow-burning fire. Maggie Cheung sighs, Tony Leung smokes, the soundtrack weeps, and their imagined future glides past like a ghost as unsaid words hover over Hong Kong streets. In Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, the cowboys—Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal)—are forced to hide their passionate affair. The conservative world they live in keeps turning while the men suffer in silence. “If you can’t fix it, you’ve got to stand it,” the lovers chant, as the weight of the secret crushes their souls.

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Todd Haynes’ film Carol (based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel) also tells the tale of two people whose relationship has less than zero chances of survival in the world. Department store assistant Therese (Rooney Mara) and rich socialite Carol (Kate Blanchett) briefly find each other—and a chance to be themselves—before their romance crumbles and loss wrecks their lives. They can’t fix it and they can’t stand it. There is no happily ever after for them.

(This appeared in the print as 'Other Love')

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