Interview with the Vampire. – movie reviews
A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is, any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
a scented gift and remembrancer, designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say, Whose?
Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death;
And if ever there was, it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it…
All goes onward and outward–nothing collapses;
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
Walt Whitman, gay blade and embracer of multitudes, would have applauded the redefinitions of gender and politics in Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game, our cinematic parable of choice just two years back. Like any poet worth his water, Whitman leaned toward transformations, process, fertile metaphor. Spiritually expansive, he might even have found room for Junior’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, the ironman madonna whose immaculate conception comes courtesy of Danny DeVito, Holy Ghost as obstetrician-troll, and Emma Thompson, a klutzy Athena in slacks. After all, Arnold’s little miracle plays messiah only to her parents’ stunted souls, though her birth does validate a magical potion that will save countless unborn lives.
Almost all myths of birth, death, and resurrection hinge on relations among divine lovers, mothers, and fathers. Familial triads form fertile deltas where human souls have traditionally harvested present hope as well as faith in signals of continuity. According to Whitman’s American transcendentalism, our immortality thrusts through every living stem, a Chinese character drawn out of a transitive, ever-budding line. Though not of woman born, Junior’s advent–plucked from an intestinal nest–never cuts out the matrilineal. The superhero’s daughter quickens scientist Thompson’s flesh–to sexuality and, subsequently, motherhood. But listening to Walt on grass makes me doubt that the unholy family Neil Jordan conjures (by way of Anne Rice) in Interview with the Vampire could ever be anyone’s ticket to ride “onward and outward.”
The whole vampire myth works as a darkly romantic and/or nihilistic inversion of Christian lore. Breeding or converting new souls for the faith through blood communion–visitation by a penetrating spirit and virgin birth both at once–the vampire’s rosy crucifixions gift the flesh with eternal animation. No fear of vagina dentata for the likes of Anne Rice’s Lestat; genitalia are passe for her version of vampire, whose cerebrally passionate rites take the form of surgical strikes to the neck or wrist, perhaps the upper regions of the breast. This sanitized act of transubstantiation depends on adult nursing close to the head, far away from hungry nether mouths. Artifice and solipsism abound; no biological nostalgie de la boue afflicts Lestat and his Adams and Eves –soil never sullies their luxurious coffin-beds. If only Dil could have detoxified her intransigent otherness by transfusing her straight love with “the dark gift” (as Rice dubs it) before that awful phallic revelation in The Crying Game. Indeed, if one could only swallow the world, one could draw the sting out of all the fears and little deaths the spirit’s heir to when it risks pulling up stakes and lighting out for new territory.
And that’s the rub: what’s painfully lacking in Interview’s freeze-dried family tree is any experience of process, of brave germination in alien ground as an act of faith, of dangerous, yet compelling enlargement. If The Crying Game pushed for crossing borders and minefields, Interview stands still for arrested development on every front. Few recent films have made women and their inconstant flesh so irrelevant, expendable, and foreign; Interview is dominated by unsexed, soulless clones of mercurial Dil, while her erstwhile suitor in The Crying Game (Stephen Rea) is relegated to the peripheral role of Santiago, an impotent demon capering with snapqueen nastiness in the Theatre des Vampires.
The reporter (Christian Slater) to whom lugubrious Louis (Brad Pitt) spills his story Ancient Mariner–style calls himself a “collector of lives,” and in this reluctant Renfield the recorder finds a truly stuffed shirt, a styrofoam melancholiac. Comparing himself at the outset with David Copperfield, one of literature’s most famous orphans, Louis recounts how his paralyzing grief and despair after the death of his wife and child (a religious-fanatic brother in the novel) caught the hungry eyes of heartless Lestat.
When Lestat rapes Louis for the first time, the pair–locked in embrace–rush heavenward as though instantly angels, but this orgasmic trope is soon rerouted: as vampire and son, they come down to little more than partying Peter Pans, bracketing a handsome mulatta to drink her dry like a shared wineskin. Not much later, at a plantation ball, Louis pays vampire court to a bedizened old hedonist with both poodle and handsome fop in tow. The grotesque woman looms largest in this caricature of sexual/emotional culs-de-sac, but her unnatural “family” mocks the home-life to come of immortals Louis, Lestat, and their gorgeous child-petlover Claudia (Kristen Dunst).
In his attempts to show Lestat as a species of smalltime Satan–all glittering beauty with nowhere to go, evil starved of grandeur–Tom Cruise occasionally injects Interview with welcome hits of amoral energy. (By film’s end, Lestat promises to become an avatar of yet another new age, fin-de-siecle dandy turned rockstar: no doubt “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” will be his signature song.) But Brad Pitt’s Louis is unnecessarily doughy and inert: here’s an undead Galahad in search of his maker, nobly denying himself every available human grail by drinking rats–but scant evidence of any brand of Lawrentian “thinking in the blood” enlivens his quest.
When Louis braces Lestat during one of his joyless debauches to debate the meaning of it all, the latter manhandles a couple of prostitutes as props in his exasperated morality play, flinging one pathetic woman about the parlor, in and out of a coffin, like a leaking ragdoll. Later, in celebration of the birth of their “daughter,” Lestat waltzes a desiccated, stiff-limbed corpse, Claudia’s onetime mother. None of Whitman’s thriving metaphors for Lestat: “dead as a doornail,” adamantly terminal simile, is the only epitaph his food gets; it has stopped, while his appetite has not. Though freeze-framed in the flesh, this soul on ice hooks us with even illusory momentum, perhaps a gutsier act for the eternally undead than any of Louis’ moral nit-picking.
“I want to be her,” cries the little “angel” parented by godlike Louis and Lestat as she gazes up at a voluptuously naked woman framed in a window. But Claudia’s hell is that she can never get out of herself, can never grow into that adult shape or alter physically in any way–even when she shears off her rich mane of curly hair, it is immediately long again, an eerie pun on one of Whitman’s definitions of grass: “the beautiful uncut hair of graves.” (In contrast, Dil has shapechanged in The Crying Game through a potent act of the imagination, and her symbolic hair-cutting starts a painful process of self-risk and commitment.) A barren literalness inspires Claudia to take the desired form into her bed; when discovered, the woman’s flesh seems to have petrified more than decayed as though even that fundamental transformation has been thwarted.
Claudia can’t be more to the man she loves than a plaything or a perversion; only her inability to die separates her from the whores Lestat treated as living dolls, or the cherubic boys she uses to infect him with bad blood. In the “snuff” play at the Theatre des Vampires, the ripest and loveliest of female flesh is flaunted as fair game, and the nude woman’s sweet terror is reduced to candy for those barred by nature from Dil’s crying game. Claudia can only gaze in hungry fascination as yet another “mother” is irised out by the black robes of feasting enfants d’enfer.
Just as Lestat was seduced by Louis’s inconsolable grief, Claudia’s choice for her own “offspring” is a woman (Domiziana Giordano) undone by the loss of a little daughter–another soul who embalms the dead rather than letting them go to seed. (Reportedly, Interview with the Vampire grew out of Anne Rice’s grief over the death of her own daughter.) Interview’s last two significant females, their familial relationship a complex knot of role reversals, are executed by their own kind, payback for Claudia’s patricide, the sin of an angel who murdered her own maker. Visually reversing that breathtaking levitation when Lestat killed Louis, Claudia and her “mother” die cowering at the bottom of a deep stone well, their cold, embraced bodies blasted by the sun into carbonized forms out of Pompeii or Hiroshima. Interview’s no-exit narcissism, the “dark gift” of self-regard, can neither go to earth nor get to heaven.
Interview with the Vampire is far from Ten Best material. Still, it carries some weight in its dark designs, the rich stuff of contemporary nightmare that can always be mined out of vampire myth, especially in the hands of an engaged filmmaker such as Neil Jordan. By virtue of his unflagging interest in the fertile subject of miscegenetic lovers and outre family relations, the director of Mona Lisa, The Miracle, and The Crying Game can honorably sign off on this big-budget pop-culture event, another of–as Lestat says of Bram Stoker and Dracula–“the demented fictions of a demented Irishman.”
COPYRIGHT 1995 Film Society of Lincoln Center
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group