Interview with the Vampire Reconsidered

I rewatched Interview with the Vampire last night and it just doesn’t seem dark enough. Maybe that’s a reflection of how my emotional self has darkened after Covid, rapacious politics, and so much social turmoil. But it seems to me that the story, the myth, of the vampire is dangerous because it is Dionysian and feral.  It has to be dark.  It has to flirt with real evil and suffering. 

Interview is too tame, too inhibited.  It tries to show evil but it stops at longing for redemption.  There has to be heartbroken bitterness (Lestat pretends to be bitter, but he’s just bored and infatuated).  And that bitterness has to become so intense that it doubles over into malice.  Then we have something.  That would be a vampire story fit for 2021.

Ann Rice (now a super-Christian) thought of the vampire more the way Mary Shelley thought of Frankenstein’s monster: a messianic anti-hero.  That’s great.  But Rice didn’t come up with the vampire mythos.  And when you make a vampire movie, it goes beyond your particular ideas into the greater mythic paradigm that contains all vampire symbolism and stories, especially those of the vampire as a 19th century expression of human suffering and desire, a twisted reaction to the oppressive side of industrial capitalism. 

Romance, blood, eternal life, its price, and its consequences only come with the darkening of the world—a rejection of daylight, machines, industry, and Protestant ideas of clean living. The vampire seems like an embodiment of Victorian longing for nature, for Pan, for the Wordsworthian overflow of feelings denied by the western progress narrative and cynical social Darwinism.  And so you only get the vampire if you’re willing to accept a certain amount of darkness and violence.  It’s why you traditionally have to invite the vampire over your threshold.  It has to be your choice to let the darkness in.  Of course, you might turn into a rotting corpse or a raving madman like Dracula’s R. M. Renfield.  But nothing comes for free in this mythology.

I guess most of us are over messiahs and redemption narratives these days.  I think I definitely am.  I don’t care about being brought back into the great huddled mass with its dead gods.  Maybe I’m looking for a different sort of vampire tale, not one born in the lingering optimism of Ann Rice’s 1990s pre-Christian return.  Suffering.  Darkness.  The Eleusinian Mysteries come around again in a story drenched in blood and derangement.  Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker.  That’s where it is for me these days.  The vampire archetype still matters, but it goes a lot deeper and gets a lot more disturbing than sexy-but-guilty anti-heroes in velvet, tormented by their otherness, seeking some kind of reintegration into banal conformist culture.

Up All Night

This is a tale of vampiric propagation. We don’t want to sleep. We want to make you just like us. And we want to live forever.

In a hundred years, when most of what we know is gone and everyone we used to worry about is either dead or getting there, we’re going to look back at all this babylon and laugh. We’ll still be around. We won’t be a teenager-climbing-out-the-window kind of around or some vagrant-watching-you-from-the-porch-across-the-street kind of around. But we’ll be around nonethelesslike an ear worm, like the sock that’s been at large under the chaise lounge since before you moved in, like some colorless, odorless gas you might decide is there if you’d only take a moment to consider it.

But, of course, you don’t take a moment. You don’t consider. And, in the meantime, we’re still here, hovering up around your rafters, slipping down your hallways, drawing unflattering conclusions about the fish in your fish tank, promulgating cruel theories about the various states of your affairs. We’ve gone down through the night, through boredom, through obsession, like going down to the river to pray, and insomnia is the little god that answered. Insomnia has made us eternal.

Let’s be honest. Every vampire story is a story about love. And every story about love is a story about starvation. Privation. Domination. Lust. Hunger. Different kinds of rebellion. Violent symbiosis. A certain pervasive irony. We can admit this now that we’re eternal. We don’t have to prevaricate anymore. We don’t have to tidy up our emotions and sanitize them. Instead we can tell it true. It comes down to this: the less we sleep, the more we fall in love with the possibility that we are no longer human.

In 1965, Randy Gardner, age 17 and ostensibly healthy, stayed awake for 264 hours as part of a science fair project, simultaneously setting the world record for sleep deprivation and stupidity. We find such amateurism distasteful. The professional accepts insomnia as a lifelong commitment, as a calling, a cruel master, an over-soul that at all moments strives to make us less animal and more idea. Rather than depriving us of dreams (as most non-insomniacs believe), insomnia makes all life into a waking dream.

We find ourselves asking, did I actually say that? We hardly remember imprisoning Jonathan Harker, feeding on his blood to sustain our hideous undead existence. The Harkers of the world think we’re monsters. They know nothing. When Randy Gardner finally slipped into unconscious oblivion, we were still up, our firefly thoughts, our half-aware fugues, the open-eyed blackouts in which we wrote pages of rambling fiction on legal pads that went unremembered for weeks until we found them in a cabinet. The sudden memory of what we’d done made us cry.

No one said this vampire life would be easy. Still, you could be like us. Get obsessed. Get to work on a book. On three books. On three books and four scripts. Get a job. Get some coffee. Realize you don’t need caffeine to stay up. Your brain chemistry alone will punish you into perpetual wakefulness. And witches’ sabbats under the moon. And the sad beauty of the night. And the slow dissolution of who you think you are into who you will always be: while good society is asleep and all the world is quiet like the dead—that thing on the balcony staring wistfully at an unchanging sky.