The Addiction Movie and Revenance

Excerpt from Revenance that reviews The Addiction

My favorite vampire movie, The Addiction, which I also discuss in Revenance, is featured in the following article about 18 philosophical films:…/the-18-best-philosophical…/2/ Here’s an excerpt from Revenance comparing and contrasting The Addiction with the vampire film The Hunger:

“Once snugly inside our room, my Awakener browses through his small stash of DVDs. Since we have limited space, he has only brought his favorite films with him. Looking over his collection (Requiem for a Dream, Sid and Nancy, Naked Lunch, etc.) he selects two vampire films we both like—The Hunger and The Addiction. We begin with The Hunger.

The opening music video-style sequence of this film powerfully introduces the contrast between a vampire’s fierce animality and its seductive, almost ethereal, elegance as scenes featuring the beautiful, genteel undead couple Miriam and John (portrayed by Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie) are juxtaposed with imagery of monkeys fighting in a cage. Miriam and John, sunglass-shielded, scan the cramped, crowded dance floor of a raucous nightclub, seeking their prey while Bauhaus’ Peter Murphy, caged like the monkeys, performs his Goth classic “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” His long, graceful hands grasp the cage bars, the song’s sinuously repeated bass line and pounding, fibrillating drums evoking the mood of imprisoning dread. Selecting an attractive punkish young couple, Miriam and John take them back to a luxurious Manhattan apartment. As Miriam and John gently kiss the young man and woman they have brought home, the scene shifts to the caged monkeys, fangs bared, tearing at each other’s flesh. The scene culminates with Miriam’s ankh dagger plunging into the male and female victims, throats slashed, and a caged monkey being torn apart, bloody sinews throbbing. Like the aftermath of a murderous orgy, the next scene is deadly calm. The apartment, as white and solemnly majestic as a marble mortuary, is bathed in light, white curtains billowing as soft, melancholy classical music plays in the background. Tenderly, John and Miriam caress each other in the shower, while John murmurs the words “Forever. Forever and ever,” wistfully, nostalgically. The film, losing momentum after this opening sequence, then begins to show the connection between the caged monkeys and the two elegant vampires. Apparently, the monkeys’ sudden vicious rage is triggered by insomnia, which, in turn, leads to rapid aging, dementia, and death. These symptoms eerily correlate with those of Miriam’s doomed lovers—inability to sleep, followed by accelerated aging as well as physical and mental deterioration. Miriam, unlike the traditional vampires of lore, cannot bestow the immortality she alone possesses. She can only give a shoddy semblance of it—a few centuries of youthful beauty as a blood-drinking murderer—then a sudden, irreversible decline into a state of perpetual putrefaction, the mind, still sentient but trapped in a rotting, entombed body that can never die. This ultimate horror—the mind locked inside a decomposing body—is a theme underlying many horror films, but here it is evoked in all its gruesome yet poignantly sad implications. Forever denied sleep and oblivion, Miriam’s ex-lovers remain in their sealed coffins, cloistered as if in a living dead dormitory, within Miriam’s light-filled attic. She has promised them an eternity of youthful delight but given them a hell as tortuous as it is timeless. Yet monstrous as her actions are, Miriam is a strangely sympathetic heroine. She truly loves the male and female partners she has unwisely, unethically selected to keep her company during their limited counterfeit “immortality.” Doomed to an eternity she cannot share, she lies to her lovers, gives them a beautiful, romantic fairytale fiction she is unable to make true. She watches as John, like all the rest of her loved ones, eventually turns old and decrepit, fiercely craving the blood that can no longer sustain his youth and beauty. Cradling him in her arms in a scene reminiscent of a Pieta, she kisses him “goodbye,” easing him gently into the casket that will be his place of eternal unrest. Up in her attic, the dead lie, flesh peeling, minds endlessly spinning in futile desperation, as white doves, like angels, look down on them with impotent pity.

Unlike the pastel-tinted grisliness of The Hunger, The Addiction presents its interpretation of the vampire myth in gritty, raw-edged, film noir black and white. Although it also takes place in New York City, its Manhattan is far removed from the upscale neoclassical luxuriousness of Miriam’s oasis. The heroine of The Addiction, Kathleen (portrayed by Lili Taylor) is thrust into her undead existence one night when she is bitten by a female vampire in a subway tunnel. After being taken to the hospital and treated for her wounds, Kathleen begins developing the thirst for blood. Unable to eat or sleep because of her incessant craving, she attacks a homeless man, whom she stabs with a needle, and then injects herself with his blood. Swooning with euphoria as she plunges the needle into her arm, she realizes that she is trapped by her addiction to blood. She needs the fix and will do anything to attain it, even attacking her philosophy instructor and her best friend. Since she is a philosophy student working on her graduate degree, she struggles to find philosophical meaning in her addiction, relating it to her thesis on the nature of original sin, predestination, and complicity in evil. According to Kathleen, she, as well as the other victims, did not actively resist their victimization but merely submitted; therefore, they are complicit in the curse they, in turn, end up transmitting to others. She realizes that the addiction is self-perpetuating. It is an escape from one’s “hunger” and yearning, as well as an escape from the truth of one’s own addiction. This escape, ironically, is an imprisonment. Eventually, while stalking what she thinks is a potential victim, she is abducted by her prey, who is actually a very ancient vampire (played by Christopher Walken). Stoically, citing the Tibetan sages, this ancient one, Peina, informs Kathleen that he has managed to survive for centuries by learning how to control his cravings; no longer enslaved to them, he can choose when to feed. He forces her to confront her addiction by starving her and draining her blood until she is reduced to trying to slash her wrists for a few drops of blood; then he releases her to face her downward spiral of addiction to its disastrous, mayhem-filled conclusion. The film’s pessimistic philosophical emphasis, starkly haunting cinematography, and absence of supernatural clichés make it unique in vampire-themed cinema. As I ponder The Addiction’s grim message and the gruesome interpretation of immortality offered in The Hunger, I worry about the secrets not yet told to me by my Awakener. What is this metaphorical clod of native soil that we must carry with us, like a curse and a fix, to keep us as we are? How do we survive the avalanche of years, the piles of corpses, the rotting residue of nightmares? ”

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Writings by Alison Armstrong