Thursday, October 20, 2011

False Light: Interview With the Vampire

There are several aspects of Neil Jordan's 1994 hit Interview With the Vampire which stand out: first and foremost is that a vampire becomes the sympathetic character, the hero, and not the traditional villain. I'm sure, in the vast canon of vampires that this perversion (literally, turning the villain into a hero) occurred previously; but when there is the star power of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt to back it up, everything has changed, and Interview With the Vampire knew it. While Interview With the Vampire is explicitly a glorification of the homosexual lifestyle, it undermines its own position by employing traditional symbols which work to make homosexuals the vampire we see in Nosferatu, a social monster, so the film totally destabilizes its own identity.
"Drink from me and live forever" obviously perverts the gift of Christ's Blood as a promise of eternal life. Whereas vampires take blood, Christ gives blood. When a vampire does give the "baptism of blood" by giving their blood to another to drink, they usually pierce only one part of their body: the wrist or the chest, sometimes the throat. Christ, however, was pierced all over his body, both hands, feet, the side, the scourging, the crowning with thorns and the wound from carrying the cross; the total gift of himself made by Christ contrasts with the extremely limited "gift" a vampire makes of their own blood.
It's apparent that Interview With the Vampire is a homosexual "setting," to say the least. What alerts us to that? The interview between Daniel (Christian Slater) and Louis (Brad Pitt) takes place in San Francisco, the rainbow capital of the United States. Secondly, there is the plethora of "same-sex" companions throughout the film (while Tom Cruise's Le Stat may feed on either sex, their companions tend to be same-sex). Thirdly, when you have two male stars who have both been voted 'the world's sexiest man alive' numerous times, sucking on each other, it's homoerotic.
The time period of the film makes it easy to portray dandified vampires.
 There's another method invoking homosexuality: towards the end, Louis sits in a theater watching Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) and Nosferatu (1922), both directed by the great F. W. Murnau who himself was probably gay. For those who have already read my posting The Undead: Nosferatu, if my thesis that Count Orlok is a figure of homosexuality brought back from the trenches of World War I is accurate, then Murnau was painting himself... as a monster, and Interview With the Vampire does the same thing. Just a quick note, Sunrise is about a husband who wants to kill his wife to be with another woman; he ends up falling in love with his wife again and then she drowns although he tries to save her. It was such a great film that at the first 1927 Oscars it was awarded a best artistic award, the only film to ever receive such a distinction. In the context of Interview With the Vampire and Nosferatu, it appears that even a rocky and short-lived hetrosexual life in the light is better than the immortal life of a homosexual lived in darkness. As I noted in The Undead: Nosferatu, Count Orlok comes to Hutter while Hutter is in his room, just as Le Stat comes to Louis in Louis' bedroom.
The vampire Count Orlok in Nosferatu.
In both Nosferatu and Interview With the Vampire, there are references to the plague and and I think both films construct the circumstances so that we understand the plague is homosexuality and it's from this that people are dying (living an unnatural sexual lifestyle kills them to the life of grace). In Bram Stoker's Dracula, Murnau's Nosferatu and Tod Browning's 1931 Dracula, the Count is on a ship headed towards England, and that invokes how the Black Death arrived on the bodies of rats infesting the crews. In Interview With the Vampire, Louis finds Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) during an outbreak of plague, her mother having died. Up to 1931, the deadliest known plague was the Black Death; in the 1990s, it was AIDS which particularly targeted the homosexual population. So in Interview With the Vampire, as Louis sucks the blood from a rat (the carrier of the fleas that carried the Black Death) Louis, the homosexual vampire, takes the place of the carrier of the new deadly plague, AIDS and homosexuality.
Tom Cruise portraying the vampire Le Stat. In the film, Le Stat is fond of saying, "The choice I never had," and he never mentions who created him or the circumstances. If Le Stat's vampirism is a symbol of the homosexual/bisexual lifestyle, then we might deduce that it's a homosexual raping he avoids disclosing, and the choice he didn't have is really a downgrading of his responsibility and free will to abstain from a lifestyle that is self-destructive instead of lamenting about "a choice" he didn't have.
If Louis becomes the "new carrier of the plague," Le Stat provides his share of destruction to New Orleans. When Claudia feeds Le Stat the cold blood of the two twin boys, Le Stat starts a fire leaving New Orleans ablaze. Fire can be the symbol of the Holy Fire of the Holy Spirit (such as at Pentecost) but it can also be the fire of lust and passion as it is most likely in this case, and the "fire of lust" which Le Stat sets New Orleans ablaze with is the lust of homosexuality.
Louis as the grim reaper at the Theatre de Vampires, setting their coffins aflame. Armand (Antonio Banderas) makes a comment about how they weren't serious vampires and they didn't understand what it meant. Armand distinguishes the vampire from the non-vampire: one who makes sex a matter of pleasure or aesthetics, rather than the sacramental union of husband and wife. In abandoning Armand as a possible new companion, Louis also abandons this philosophy of Armand's, and entraps himself in a prison of his own making about knowing he has chosen a path of evil, but refusing, like Le Stat, to save his soul. The "interview" between Louis and Daniel is supposed to keep others from turning the same path that Louis took, but knowing that Daniel wants to become Louis' new companion, the "interview," like the film itself, probably led more down that road than saved from that path.
But there are two other notable "blazes" within the film: at Louis' home in New Orleans and the Theatre des Vampires in Paris. In my post Gestures: the Significance of the Insignificant, I pointed out that Louis' vampire breaks the tradition of being able to see his reflection in the mirror, and that it was a sign, just as Louis is destroying his house, that he can "reflect" interiorly about what he is doing after he has killed one of the women on his plantation. The house often represents the soul, so for Louis to be burning down the house means that he knows he's going to hell and, at this point at least, he's wanting to find a way to undo what he has done by loosening the "fire of purgation" upon himself to atone for his sins. It's really the same at the Theatre des Vampires: while it's mostly an act of revenge, killing them because they killed Claudia, it's also that Louis is consigning them to the fire of hell as he believes he himself should be, too.
After Claudia's death, Armand and Louis walk through an art exhibit and Louis' eyes briefly land on Mikahil Vrubel's Head of a Demon, invoking his memories of Claudia and the hardships of her life. That a picture of a demon would be used as a symbol of Claudia, whom Louis himself "made" once more re-asserts that even as homosexuality is being glorified, they are also undermining it by illustrating its traditional links with evil and the unnatural.
While Interview With the Vampire breaks with the tradition of a vampire being able to see it's own reflection, it upholds that a vampire will die in the light of day. Light symbolizes truth, and a reader asked me in the comment section of For the Dead Travel Fast: Dracula why a vampire can die in light (I didn't mention it in that post because in Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula can go out in daylight although his powers are significantly reduced). In Interview With the Vampire, there are two kinds of light: light and false light. The Resurrection of Christ brought new light and a new day to humanity because His teachings set us on a new path; for vampires, they are trapped in the darkness that was before the Resurrection, because they ignore the teachings and the new path, choosing a path of earthly pleasure instead of virtue and heavenly reward (the sleeping in the coffin acts as a reminder that they are doomed to eternal death, whereas the Christian has the hope of resurrection and forever leaving the coffin).
Kirsten Dunst as Claudia. One of the interesting aspects of the film is when Claudia revolts and cuts her hair off and then seconds later it has completely grown back, and then they all realize the terror of what they have become. While there is a romantic side to "never growing old," like the novel The Portrait of Dorian Gray, vampires cannot change, that is, they cannot grow and overcome what is inside of them, they are stagnant. The best comparison of this is Dante's The Divine Comedy, Purgatorio, where the souls are paying off their debts to God's justice and, as they overcome a sin within them, they are then free to move on; vampires are not free to move on because they cannot grow, as Claudia herself cannot grow. Stoker's novel makes it abundantly clear when Van Helsing reveals that Dracula, while clever, still has only a child's brain, because the growth necessary for obtaining the virtues that are available to us requires us to change so that we become wise, but that path is closed to the vampire.
Claudia and her "new companion" die in the light of day that turns them to ash (the woman wants to become a vampire to have a child that will never die, and in less than 24 hours, they are both dead, which is like poor bug-eating Renfield who believes that Dracula will give him all the insects and rats he could ever want and then complains that he didn't get so much as a blow-fly, so go the promises of Evil). Light is fatal to a vampire because it shows them as they truly are, not in the light of immortality or glamor, but as they truly are, killers of the soul and the body. Only in light can we see ourselves; not in darkness which hides our sins. This is part of the reason Claudia's death is so hard for Louis, he had just started getting used to being a vampire and "enjoying life," having forgotten his old guilt and doubts with the "passing" of Le Stat; seeing Claudia's ashen body reminds him of the path he has chosen and the consequences.
The eyes are always a symbol for the soul, and in Interview With the Vampire, the soul of Louis is clearly tainted with a sickening green the color of a decaying corpse infested with disease. There is also a transparency to the eyes (especially in Armand's) which translates to nearly no color, that is, no virtue, no real life of the soul.
But there is another light mentioned in the film: false light. Louis finds Le Stat and, talking to him as a helicopter flies by the house, shining a florescent light into the room where they are, Le Stat shrinks back and Louis tells him there is nothing to fear, it's only false light that can't hurt him. Louis is absolutely correct: our culture has abandoned moral structures and generated technological advances that have created a false light of truth and reality that will not harm vampires or the embracing of homosexuality.
There is nothing for them to fear.
The false light is in this room, too, where supposedly Louis tells Daniel the truth of his life. If, however, florescent lighting is a false truth, then there are things which Louis isn't telling Daniel--and the audience--after all.
Like Nosferatu which utilizes the symbol of a vampire for homosexuality, and likens the spreading of homosexuality to a life-threatening plague, Interview With the Vampire depicts the most attractive men of the day in the roles of homosexuals and, playing off the sympathies of the audience, makes them doomed romantic characters like Lord Byron's Satan. Just as Daniel willingly offers to become Louis' new companion, the "interview with Louis the vampire, attempts to lead people astray even as it's telling them "a truth" but not the whole truth about who and what vampires are, and that's the point of the film: the spreading of the "gospel" of the homosexuality, and our choice is to either accept that Gospel of Darkness or the Gospel of the Light.