Thursday, January 19, 2012

Vampire Morality Blues: Underworld: Awakening, We are the Night

 

We all love vampires, but what's the deal with all the 'good' ones in films like We are the Night (2nd down from top, below), Interview with a Vampire, The Lost Boys, and Near Dark, wherein people become vampires presumably to be badass but actually only to also become hypocritically pious by refusing to slaughter humans, and giving the vampires who kill and drink humans a rough time (these phonies are worse than vegans!) Give them a goblet of blood they'll drink it and never ask where it came from, but killing humans is, like, wrong, just like the 'good' Terminator can only shoot humans in the legs, and Batman risks the lives of god-knows-how-many innocent bystanders to not run over the Joker (The Dark Knight).

We are the Night
In Germany's We are the Night, the protagonist--a femme Nikita-type punkette--is badass as a human but once she newborn develops a conscience, refuses to kill and even refuses the advances of the hot Teutonic blonde leader of the clan, all just so she can get all boringly hetero with some handsome copper. So rather than perch in the rarefied aerie of Vampyres, The Black Swan, Xena, Daughters of Darkness and Bound, this (Sex and the City materialist-brand) edgy horror-action drama trudges down to the the last-minute heterosexual imperative dungeon, already crammed with films like Kissing Jessica Stein, So Close, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and others too boring to remember.

Interview with a Vampire
And not even to harp on that issue, but We are the Night is made by Germans. Germans! Why not take a risk and dare us to identify with a genuine human-killing vampire, i.e. one who truly is the night and isn't just kibbitzing? Do you think humanity itself will cease to exist if we get to see a happy lesbian vampire for a change? You parachute this glum boy cop in there like the film needs him. We don't need anymore hunk c***blockers --sent in like heterosexuality's overcrowded real estate agent to dull the works. I thought we buried this type of clueless beard back in D.E.B.S (2004).


That's why this new Underworld: Awakening (released next Friday-ish) looks good to me. After Melancholia and Rise of the Planet of the Apes it may be the first movie to wise up and root for the other side; to trust we're smart enough not to start biting people because we saw the protagonist do it, or that we'll hate humanity like we don't all ready hate ourselves worse than we ever could our killer.

Awakening's plot is that Kate Beckinsale and company are now hunted down by humanity instead of werewolves (The werewolves are to apes as vamps are to humans in the Underworld - Planet of the Apes continuum). As humanity has become a dreary bore lately, what with the old white devil sea / Republican debates, I'm sure I'm not alone in rooting for our extinction: in his review of We are the Night on Spellbound Cinema, Daniel Orion Davis brings up Sartre's concept of 'bad faith:'
Inevitably, comes the turn, however.  We are socialized to reject "vampirism" in all its metaphoric capacity.  Taught, for very socially beneficial reasons, that might can not make right.  And so we must deceive ourselves, practice "bad faith" and call the fantasy a nightmare.  If it is wrong to dominate others, then it must be wrong to fantasize about dominating others.  And so the figure of the brooding vampire, the repentant sinner, the...sigh..."vegetarian." 
I say a humanity that can cheer its own demise is a saved humanity, for it is our objective perspective about ourselves that saves us -- what exploited, tortured laboratory chimp among us will feel vindicated by Rise of the Planet of the Apes? None, but we made it anyway. That's good. What vampire action group will howl in outrage if the good vampires don't stick to their 'animal blood' diet? None, but filmmakers seem to think a whole contingent of nervous 'defamation of the undead' anti-lobbyists are outside on a picket line/ A morally ambiguous approach would add all sorts of modern resonance and it is not here. The misanthropic approach of Rise and Awakening is ballsy bravery;  Night is squeamish cowardice.


And why is killing a human more offensive than killing a chimp, or a deer? If you had a choice between one human test subject dying and ten thousand test  chimps which would you pick? What if it was between three dolphins or a pedophile? A thousand kittens vs. a foul smelling old vagrant who never had an altruistic thought in his life?

You chose the kittens?

Dude, that smelly old vagrant... was me.

Just kidding! BUT you get the point.

Bill Paxton. Too bad the 'hero' is someone else: Near Dark
Animals are always innocent; ourselves almost never, and PS-we should learn to eat insects, as nature intended, and I will only accept your decision that it's gross after you've killed and skinned at least one of the mammals you've eaten, if ye be eating them, and told me it's less gross to kill and eat a squirrel than to fry some crunchy buttered grasshoppers. That our vampires are too squeamish to do what thousands of brave slaughterhouse workers, snakes, wolves and micro-livestock enthusiasts do everyday is just embarrassing, a sad offshoot of our see-no-evil carnivore guilt; even our vampires are of cowardly conscience made. At least in Germany.


The Underworld series on the other hand isn't great, but it's no worse than the average story in Heavy Metal magazine and it employs a lot of classy Brit thespians like Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy and Beckinsale, who is a good actress, foxy, and damned hot without being tacky or sleazy in her skintight leather outfit. And they all play it dead straight. Sometimes something can be great just by being better than Resident Evil or Bloodrayne, and that's always been true if the greatness includes daring to return to moral ambivalence. So go get us, Kate! Believe me we deserve it.

9 comments:

  1. Another great post Erich. Although I came at from a different angle, my conclusions about We are the Night (http://spellboundcinema.blogspot.com/2011/05/we-are-night-2010.html) were much the same. You really hit the nail on the head though, especially in tying it into Rise of the Planet of the Apes. (Now if only that movie could have avoided getting so dunderheaded in its third act...)

    Cheers!

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  2. Damn right - that's a must read. I'm taking the liberty of quoting it above. I disagree on APES third act though, I thought it was fricking awesome, to the point I even forgave Cesar's odd act of mercy.

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  3. Well, I should clarify my point about Apes, because there was a lot that I liked about it (both the film and the third act.) But, I loved the build-up of the movie, in large part because while it was assuredly science fiction, it was thoughtfully so. By walking us carefully through the steps involved in the "production" of Ceasar's intelligence (production both in the sense of genetic manipulation and in the sense of production of a concept of animal intelligence that a mainstream moviegoing audience could recognize and sympathize with) it made the film's science fiction concepts seem less like fantasy and more like a world next-door to our own, so to speak.

    But I felt like the third act was dictated less by the narrative and thematic needs of the film than by the commercial imperative of making a summer blockbuster. The film has to end with an epic action sequence, so by god it will, even if that means that all plausibility has to be thrown out the window.
    What took years, and multiple generations in Ceasar's case can now just be inhaled when it comes time to make the army. By the movie's end, apes just released from zoos are joining in Ceasar's coordinated rebellion without having ever even being given the limited exposure to the gene therapy that "turned" the other apes in the sanctuary.

    Not that I demand plausibility from my sci-fi or don't appreciate out-and-out fantasy, but it seemed to me that the film squandered its critical edge, by in effect telling its audience "this is just a fantasy action movie after all, so don't get too worked up by it." If it had reached the same conclusion by a more thoughtful route (which still could have included big action set-pieces) it could have, in my opinion, been something much more.

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  4. Usually in a vampire film a vampire will eat another human only if he is the villain, the "good" vampire, i.e. the good guy in the movie who ended up getting bitten, will only eat rats, dogs or some sort of blood substitute. These vamps always have a hell of a struggle dealing with the fact that he is a vampire. So many examples pop to mind...

    Michael from The Lost Boys
    Charlie Brewster in Fright Night 2
    Blade in Blade

    Cool post man.

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  5. Fair enough, but or me anything less than a cathartic mass uprising would have left me still smoldering, and as for the apes all learning a bit too quickly don't forget that adage about 'the hundredth monkey' (and monkey see monkey do) - and also the very 'contagious' nature of the virus, where it spreads to humans fast enough to wipe them all out by the end credits... and of course one must remember that it's a Planet of the Apes movie first and a seething discourse on man's inhumanity and cruelty to primates in the name of science second. Sometimes only a gorilla destroying a helicopter single handed can adequately sum up our individual rage at our species' collective callousness and unconscious sense of entitlement.

    That said, I first watched the film at a very low, bitter moment in my life and came away exalted... Who knows if I'd have seen it a month later or earlier how much different my reaction would have been? I've always been lucky in seeing the exact right movie at the exact right moment where my life and the movie bleed together, maybe that's a result of when movies raise you as a child!

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  6. Thanks FC, for those additions - I haven't seen Lost Boys or Fright Night 2. I forgive Blade because baby he was drawn that way - originally I think as a foil against Dracula in 'The Tomb of Dracula' comics - pinnacles of great moral ambiguity as far as having an evil vamp be the star. He's a half-vamp superhero with no sense of humor, so he can be noble if he wants, but the rest of the them gots no excuse

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  7. Blade was created as you said, and for the record, not all of us love vampire movies. I'd be content to never see another one ... and haven't for a few years.

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  8. Fright Night II aint a bad sequel, if you enjoyed the first one, it's like revisiting a pair of old friends, Peter Vincent and Charlie Brewster, same actors, different vampires and a different babe for Charlie. It's not as awesome as the first, but still highly watchable if your a fan of the original one.

    The Lost Boys is one of those seminal 80's vampire flicks, a must watch at some point man, highly enjoyable! That one along with Fright Night and Near Dark...to me where the best of the vampire movies from that era, with Vamp falling somewhere in the fourth place.

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  9. The Lost Boys always made me feel uncomfortable for some reason. I was lucky(?) enough to see it in the theatre and felt that way then, too.

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