Interview With The Vampire
Starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. Rated restricted.
Now playing at the Varsity, Capitol 6, Esplanade 6, Eagle Ridge, and others
Back in the late '70s, when Anne Rice's novel Interview with the Vampire was originally making the rounds, everyone was talking about its lush detail, its complex characterization, the completeness of its demimonde. I wouldn't have known a demimonde if one had popped up in my soup, and I'd read too fast to appreciate any kind of detail, but the sex-saturated subtext had made my adolescent senses quiver: the orgasmic, pulsing pleasure of drinking living blood, the implied bestiality of sucking at a rat's belly, the homo-eroticism between the vampires Louis and Armand, the pedophiliac incestuousness of Louis's passion for the girl vampire Claudia. Once under the spell of Louis's charisma, I felt the sensuality of his enhanced vampire perceptions, the religious torments ripping him apart; I felt to the marrow of my 15-year-old bones that vampirehood is a cruel fate for a practising Catholic.
If everyone else was serious about the demimonde stuff, they are going to be very happy with this movie. Interview has translated to the screen as a Merchant/Ivory nightmare, darkly exquisite in every respect, from the antebellum New Orleans interiors to the Parisian costumes and the translucent, blue-veined faces of the vampires Lestat (Tom Cruise), Louis (Brad Pitt), Armand (Antonio Banderas), and Claudia (Kirsten Dunst). Blood is everywhere, as beautiful and undisturbing as wine, gleaming in claret glasses, running in ribbons down white throats, streaming dark red from cut wrists. The vampire world is so completely created that all the death, decapitation, immolation, and dismemberment impart no horror or suspense, but seem entirely natural.
But the sensuality, the smouldering centralizing force of the book, didn't survive the translation. The liability here is not Cruise, who lights up the movie with the wicked irony of his Lestat, but Pitt, who simply doesn't have the enormous sexual and intellectual charisma necessary to make Louis's internal journey a convincing substitute for a plot. Interview is essentially the narrative of one vampire's search for the meaning of unlife; without enough power behind Louis's personality, it becomes the story of four vampires squabbling, burning down some houses, and killing a lot of rats.
Rice also lessened the movie's depth by excising from her script Louis's struggle between the fear of God and the erotic pull of blood lust. This tension was Louis's raison de ne pastre; in its absence, Oprah won't be the only one to construe the film as satanic, and adherents of the book may not be the only ones to think that something important is missing. As well, director Neil Jordan, who showed such an affinity for erotic demimondes in The Crying Game, keeps the actors on the whole too far apart to generate chemistry together, and only Banderas does it on his own.
For all that, the movie is visually rich and often enthralling. And because it is hard to admit to any major disappointment without admitting to sheer thwarted perversion, anyone who is really unsure whether to see it should skip all the good reviews and ask a very close friend.