Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Irish Vampire Crying Game, or Neil Jordan’s Byzantium

Neil Jordan is a slick and professional storyteller, always filming nicely framed, quiet moments punctuated by savage and unspeakable violence.  As the director of Interview With the Vampire (1994), he is no stranger to the genre.   He also directed Mona Lisa (1986) starring the great Bob Hoskins, The Crying Game (1992), which you should already know about, Breakfast on Pluto (2005) and a Red Riding Hood werewolf movie you may have also seen entitled The Company of Wolves, (1984).
Saorsie Ronan from Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) plays Eleanor, a 200-year-old teenage girl, who writes in her journal and narrates the film.  Eleanor lives with her mother Clara, played by Gemma Arterton from Quantum of Solace (2008) and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), who supports the two of them as a stripper/prostitute/hustler/thief.  Hunted by the by vampire elders, they hide out in a seaside town where Clara meets a lonely hotel owner and Eleanor meets Frank, a shy lad dying from leukemia. 
The vampires of Byzantium are non-traditional; they can walk in daylight and have no fangs.  Instead they utilize a talon-like thumbnail, both feral and feminine in equal measures.  Clara decides to turn the hotel, named Byzantium, into a brothel while Eleanor floats around the local college pretending to be a student.  It doesn’t take long for the vampire elders to catch up with them.
When the sexuality is overt as it is in this film, the vampire metaphor shifts from sex to addiction.  In Byzantium we have a codependent vampire mother and daughter falling into the same tragic patterns as their more earthly sisters.  Constantly on the run, viewing men as threats and paychecks, introducing Eleanor as her sister rather than her daughter, Clara could just as easily be addicted to alcohol or heroin.  Eleanor for her part keeps to herself, playing the piano beautifully (200 years of practice, she explains to Frank), and writing in her journal of the loneliness of immortality.  She is as compelled to tell her story to her victims as much as her mother is compelled to lie about their true nature to her own victims.
This quiet and sensitive film is more like the Swedish vampire movie Let The Right One or Låt den rätte komma in (2008) than his previous and now seminal work Interview With The Vampire.  Byzantium is no big Hollywood summer release starring virtually every star from the 90’s (and also Kirsten Dunst, who had a fantastic performance as Peggy Blumquist in Season 2 of Fargo).  Interview had a built-in audience thanks to Anne Rice, and the casting of Tom Cruise as Lestat was intriguing and controversial.  Byzantium is an original movie with a first rate cast, also including Jonny Lee Miller, (who you really should be watching in Elementary) as a creepy syphilitic Royal Navy Captain.  But the themes as always remain the same; immortality, loneliness, the search for love and identity in a constantly changing world and underlying all of it, that unceasing and neverending thirst for blood…



my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.