#ThrowbackThursday – Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles

Original US release date: November 11, 1994
Production budget: $60,000,000
Worldwide gross: $223,664,608

Directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game), Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles was one of those films that I originally caught long after its original release, and only once.  I don’t even recall when it was that I first saw the film, but it was quite a while ago, and I remembered practically nothing regarding its content.  I did remember thinking very little of it – good or bad – and, based on the fact that it has maintained a fairly strong reputation and level of awareness even to this day, I determined that it was worth another look.  If nothing else, the film would be fresher in my head should any questions about it arise at my monthly trivia night.

The title of the film can be taken quite literally, as the narrative is driven by a journalist named Malloy (Christian Slater, “Mr. Robot”) who is interviewing the vampire Louis De Pointe Du Lac (Brad Pitt, Fight Club) and documenting Louis’s long, 200-plus-year life story.  Louis’s life is full of heartbreak, death, love, and the search for identity and Malloy comes to find out that a supernatural human is not all that different from a normal human, underneath it all.

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Looking back at this film almost 25 years after its original release, it’s clear just how much has been lifted from it by the onslaught of recent vampire properties.  It would be easy to watch Interview with the Vampire and dismiss it as something that’s been done many times before, but that’s not true.  In actuality, it’s been done many times since.  Or, at least, much of it has been.

One aspect of the film that wasn’t originated here is the omnipresent hypersexual undertones.  Vampirism has long been used as a parallel for sexuality and Interview does nothing to avoid that comparison.  In fact, the film manifests sexual subtexts in some truly uncomfortable moments, but one must realize that this is the intention.  Per the rules of this (and virtually every) vampire universe, these creatures are immortal and are ruled entirely by their carnal desires: namely sex and hunger.  The societal rules that govern humanity are of no concern to the vampire nation because, in their minds, they are no longer human.  All that matters to them is satiating their every need and desire, whether the normal humans approve or not.

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That being said, there are always exceptions and, in this story, that exception is Louis.  After being sired by the vampire Lestat (Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible), Louis resists the vampire lifestyle and strives to cling to his humanity.  All the while, Lestat pokes and prods at Louis, constantly attempting to nudge him closer to his dark side and to accept himself for who he is.  When Lestat’s already-tenuous hold on Louis seems to be on its last legs, Lestat sires a little girl by the name of Claudia (Kirsten Dunst, Spider-Man) and manipulates Louis into feeling responsible for her.  Louis must then try to find the balance between not only his own vampire cravings and humanity, but also Claudia’s as Lestat continues to draw them both into his web.

Truth be told, the film drags somewhat until the introduction of Claudia.  There’s some substance, but it’s simply not terribly entertaining.  There’s no real narrative hook and the movie also struggles with the lack of an easily-identifiable protagonist.  The beginning of the film is almost entirely composed of scenes of vampires behaving badly.  Lestat thoroughly enjoys himself (to the point that Cruise goes too over-the-top with his performance, occasionally making it difficult to take the movie seriously), while Louis is conflicted.  Even so, we don’t yet know on what side of the fence Louis will fall, so it’s difficult for the viewer to emotionally invest in him.

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That all changes once Claudia enters the picture.  Not only is a more empathetic side of Louis introduced, but Claudia is so charismatic and completely – how do I say this? – bat$#!+ insane that she alone nearly makes the entire film.  I suspect that any young actress with a reasonable amount of talent could have made this part work and it’s largely Rice’s characterization of Claudia that makes her so memorable.  Yet, the young eleven-year-old Dunst throws herself wholeheartedly into the role and relishes every moment on-screen as much as Claudia herself relishes her newfound life as one of the undead.  As Claudia ages, Dunst must then adjust her performance to be that of a mental and emotional adult in the body of a child, and she does a remarkable job, obviously with the help of director Jordan.  All told, when thrown into a high-profile film opposite Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Antonio Banderas, the eleven-year-old Dunst steals the whole movie and makes it worth seeing, all by herself.

Aside from Claudia, the most compelling aspect of the film is how the immortal, physically powerful vampires, who see themselves as being infinitely above humanity, succumb to the same pitfalls and insecurities that regular people do.  Lestat struggles with rejection and the pain of wanting what he can’t have.  Louie faces peer pressure and the conflict of nature versus nurture.  Claudia feels different on the inside than she portrays on the outside and faces a constant battle in choosing one over the other.  These are everyday issues that the average Joe and Jill must confront, making the point that people are people, immortal bloodsuckers or not.

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While the film limps along at some points due to pacing issues and may be unfairly tiresome to some viewers after being imitated by so many other films in the decades since its release, Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles is easily a must-see film at least once in one’s life, if for no other reason than to experience the phenomenon that is Kirsten Dunst’s Claudia.  The film is a drama, not the action film that some may expect and not the love story for which other younger viewers may be hopeful.  Jordan and Rice set out to tell a sophisticated tale about the human side of vampires and all that would go into living with their curse.  Throw in the madness of Claudia and Interview with the Vampire is, while flawed, an overall success.

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