Here we are almost 30 years after the publication of Interview with the Vampire and Stephanie Meyer has decimated any coolness cred vampires earned over the last 250 years. Now vampires hiss like a cat that’s been stepped on. They sparkle in the sunlight. They don’t kill for the simple pleasure of it, but because they want to keep that last part of humanity with them. They kill because it is their job. Wonder what the benefits package on that job looks like? Oh yeah. Immortality. No need to go to the doctor.
Okay, let’s talk about immortality. Who wants to live forever? Teenagers who haven’t realized they’re mortal, pop stars, actors. It’s the little things about daily life that I find exhausting: wondering why my underwear feels so weird and then figuring out I’ve had them on backwards all day, looking in the mirror and noticing that gravity has been harder on my left boob than my right and having to take a few minutes every evening to up the girls so they don’t look like they’ve had a stroke. Why on earth would I want to do that until the end of time? Vampires have to watch everyone they love (and hate) die. Immortality means having to watch wars blossom and unfold, cultures destroyed, entire species eradicated. And having to watch it over and over and over again.
Well that was a little trip to a dark place.
In the film Byzantium, Neil Jordan (who also directed Interview with the Vampire) brings us a seemingly ordinary vampire movie about two women who have been alive for over 200 years. Clara (Gemma Arterton, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters) is a stripper. Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan, Hannah, The Host) is an introspective “teenager.” They live together in London. The movie opens with Eleanor writing in a journal (because after being alive for over 200 years a vampire needs to tell her story since there’s only so many Golden Girls reruns to sit through before jumping out a window), tearing out the pages and crumpling them up and throwing them away. An old man finds a page and reads it. He invites her to his house. He is dying and he believes she can help him.
Clara, meanwhile, is giving a private lap dance to a man in the strip club where she works. She invites her customer home with her because she knows she can get a little more money out of him. Over the years she’s run several brothels. But she’s taken the wrong man home. He works for the vampire Brethren. The movie doesn’t explain what that is until almost the end. I’ll just say they don’t like having women in the vampire family. The man tries to kill Clara. She cuts off his head and burns down her apartment. She finds Eleanor and they go on the run.
Eleanor and Clara run to a small coastal town. Eleanor meets Noel, a man whose mother just died and left him a rundown building called the Byzantium Hotel. They move in and Eleanor turns the Byzantium Hotel into a brothel. Hey, you find something you’re good at, you stick with it. Carpentry and prostitution are two of the world’s oldest trades. If you can find a hooker that can build you a bookcase, your life is complete. Eleanor falls in love with a boy in town but since she’s immortal what’s the point of falling in love if it’s not going to last?
Eleanor and Clara’s lives begin a ripple effect, drawing people, both good and evil, into their lives. This isn’t a fancy art house vampire movie. It boils down to time and how it can become a burden and how even if we feel that our bonds to other people are suffocating, in the end when you have someone who knows you’re a monster and they still love you, well, hold onto that suffocation. For another 800 years.