Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Interview with... need I go on?

(Disclaimer – this is just about the movie. The book series is sufficiently different that it merits a different write-up.)

The Man, the Myth, the Movie
Interview with a Vampire is a Vampire movie, not just an action/romance movie with Vampires. Really, does Underworld need to be a Vampire/werewolf movie? You could replace the lichens (hey, lichens are composite organisms, too), I mean, ‘Lycans’ and Vampires with any warring faction and barely change the story one bit. If your leading lady is just going to be shooting people and wearing tight leather for the whole movie, couldn’t she be almost anybody? If these guys have been doing the same thing for a thousand years, do they really have to be immortal?

 Interview, on the other hand, really uses the Vampire premise. Here, Vampires aren’t monsters for a protagonist to defeat to prove his self-worth, or masculinity, or anything else so subjective. Again, that could really be any monster: you could swap the Vampires for gang-bangers and barely change the story (look at the Lost Boys). Also, these Vampires aren’t generic dangerous love interests for young women. Those could just as easily be real life sociopaths, and still be the stuff of spectacularly ill-advised fantasy (look at the Lost Boys).

No: Louis’s character conflict and arc and relationship with Lestat are all defined by this unique situation and set of circumstances. The existential questions raised by Vampirism, the moral implications of killing to survive, the process of gradually becoming desensitized to murder, ‘siring’ as seduction, and the experience of agelessness without physical maturity: these are not window dressing. They’re the substance of the story. I really have to give Anne Rice and the filmmakers credit for that: these kinds of stories can still succeed regardless (I do mildly like the Lost Boys), but thinking through a premise allows more opportunities for originality. Plus, you feel like you get your money’s worth.
I liked the basic idea back in the 1970s and still do: a Vampire narrating the story of his life – which we get to watch in flashback – to a then-modern reporter. It’s still rare to find any Vampire media that reflects my actual experiences, though I obviously shouldn't and don't expect this of writers, and I like escapism and new takes on old ideas as much as the next person. Still, I do love a human character whose response to encountering an old Vampire is to sit and talk with him. Most of my coolest hosts are like that. I love Daniel Molloy’s line: ‘I’m a collector of lives.’ I’ve often felt the same way, and so do many of the people who talk to me.

Incidentally, one fun series of questions I get from the aforementioned cool hosts is: do vampires find Vampire movies scary? What movies do we find scary? In fact, do we find movies scary? Sure. My scariest movie: Threads, a British docudrama about post-nuclear war survival. I first watched it in the 1980s, when it was basically the world’s most horrifying weather forecast. Expecting a genre film to replicate that experience would be unfair. Movies are obviously not aimed at my people, but they’ll work if they reflect our insecurities and vulnerabilities.

Take Interview: the scene where Claudia and Madeleine are burned to death by the sun. Horrifying. Especially the build-up: Claudia and Madeleine are trapped in this narrow tower, sentenced to death in a chaotic flurry, with just one vent leading to the outdoors – no exit, barely enough room to move let alone escape, and the vent is too high for them to reach or guard. Then it’s daytime, we watch the sunlight slowly descend upon them, and we watch Claudia’s confusion and gradual realization of the situation, her gasping in horror as direct sunlight slowly hits them. Then the payoff: we see this sculptural pile of ashes that’s still shaped like her in her last moments of horror. True Blood pulled something like this recently (except it involved a witch and voice distortions), and it was unintentionally hilarious. Interview made it as horrifying as it should be.    
I hated Claudia from start to finish, and this scene still made me feel for her. Madeleine was innocent though, and I still don’t understand why the Paris Vampires killed her. She wasn’t an accessory to Lestat’s murder, and she was an adult. God, five minutes earlier she was promised immortality, and it all ended like this. Executed for her sire’s crimes. Bastards.

Basically, the whole film is a scary what-if scenario for my people. What if there was no real vampire society, and you and your sire had to fend for yourselves? What if your sire was evil? What if you really were hungry and desperate for blood every minute, and could blow at any time? What if you pulled away from a victim, and he/she really was dead?

The scenario’s not so far-fetched. There are vampires sired outside of our community, generally called ‘extra-nationals,’ and they make Louis look mentally balanced by comparison. Whenever we find and imprison one of them, it’s a reminder of what we could have been, and that it’s our circumstances that made us who we are – now that’s psychological horror, right there.

My culture emphasizes introspection and personal development. The fear of losing your ideals and the basis of your personality with time, and with the changing cultural zeitgeist – that fear is very real, whether it’s justified or not. My people are by no means alone in that regard. Sometimes as you get older and learn about moral ambiguity, and the role of conditioning and moral breakdown, the monsters don’t look as external anymore. They may not even look much like monsters.

I think Interview works better as horror, especially adult horror, than most of the Vampire films that take the perspective of the hunters and the victims. Those films usually play on the fear of monsters. Stories like Interview play on the fear of becoming monsters ourselves. That’s one reason the Vampire genre has lasted so long: it combines the two. I think the latter is scarier. And really, which one is more realistic?


 In 1984, the Inner Party wouldn’t just torture you for resisting them: they’d break down your sense of reality and morality until you could maintain the controlled lunacy of doublethink, and you’d be willing to throw your lover into a cage of rats if it meant saving your own ass. Contrast that with, say: ‘some guy from the Thought Police killed Winston Smith in the middle of the night, oh, and he had scary teeth and claws.’ Yeah. Lestat killing the prostitute at the beginning of the film was alarming but not scary. Lestat destroying Louis as an individual as we watch him regress into a monster as horrible as Lestat, on the other hand, is memorable and scary.  

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