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Neil Jordan's Vampire probes life, immortality

Interview with the Vampire

Directed by Neil Jordan.

Written by Anne Rice, based on her novel.

Starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas, Stephen Rea, and Christian Slater.

Loews Cheri.

By Gretchen Koot
Staff Reporter

At many points, Interview with the Vampire risks drowning in the gloom that pervades it, but just enough comic relief keeps it afloat. This faithful adaptation of Anne Rice's novel puts the audience into the mind and world of vampires. Told from the point of view of the vampire protagonist Louis, the movie brings the viewer into the lives of the monsters rather than their victims. We are made to identify with Louis and to help us do so, he is portrayed as emotional and sensitive. We are told that he is a vampire with a human soul.

The movie opens with the beginning of the interview. Brad Pitt, looking radiantly beautiful as Louis, pours out his tale of horror and loss to a reporter played by Christian Slater. Louis' tale is unrelenting in its dismal sorrow. His story begins in a hopeless state of mourning after the death of his wife and infant daughter, and we watch him dutifully crouch by their tombstones. As the narration tells us, he has already ceased to live. After the charismatic vampire Lestat (Tom Cruise) enters his life, transforming him into a blood-sucking creature of the night, Louis' character remains virtually unchanged. The sorrow of his families death is soon replaced by fresh sorrows. He is still the same tragic, melancholy creature although through some neat special effects, his appearance improves greatly.

Cruise's turbo-charged portrayal of Lestat provides us with the thrills and humor needed to keep from sinking under the weight of Louis' despair. While Louis denies his murderous nature, Lestat revels in it. He kills more than he needs for survival, savoring the experience. Having broken free of all moral restraint, he takes his victims with sensuality and brutality. Louis, on the other hand, is possessed of a conscience and tries to subsist on rats and other animals rather than kill. When he loses control and drains one of his servants, he is overwhelmed by regret.

The story is an update of the traditional vampire myth. Bram Stoker's Dracula is primarily a cautionary tale about the dangers of our own animal (i.e. sexual) nature. While this theme was timely in the Victorian Era, it has lost some resonance in 1994. Here the sensuality of the vampire is preserved, but the primary lure of the vampire is the possibility of at once escaping death and the pain of living. The vampire has gained victory over death and becomes its emissary. It is his own will to exist that drives him to kill, to become a monster.

Louis ultimately fails in his attempt to do this. His attachment to life is always weak. His life is a torment, and so it remains after his transformation except now his torment has been extended. He has not escaped the pain of death and that pain surrounds him. Louis becomes so expert at wearing a pained expression that he seldom drops it. Lestat, on the other hand, revels in his triumph over death. In one scene, he takes a shriveled corpse in his arms and dances with it, remarking, "There's life in the old gal yet." Clearly death has no meaning for him, and it is this freedom which is fascinating.

The sets, costumes and special effects are all fabulous. They transport the viewer to the swamps of New Orleans, the catacombs of Paris, and the streets of San Francisco and across two centuries. The gore is mostly restricted to copious amounts of spilt blood and a few dried out corpses but is also unnervingly convincing. All of the special effects are seamless although a scene in which the child Claudia's hair is abruptly given a permanent in the course of her vampiric transformation made most of the audience laugh at a moment which should have been horrific.

Overall the movie, like the book, is a fun escape from daily life, and allows us to roam the fantastic world of the vampire. Director Neil Jordan, best known for directing The Crying Game, does well to remain faithful to Rice's story and give emotional weight to the gruesome accounts on the screen.