Unlike Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire, the majority of vampire films (at least those that achieved any level of notoriety) have been presented solely from mankind’s perspective. F.W. Murnau’s 1922 horror classic, Nosferatu, wasn’t so much the story of the evil Count Orlok as it was that of Hutter and his long-suffering wife, Ellen, who found themselves suddenly coping with the threat of having to live across the street from a monster. Tod Browning’s 1931 version of Dracula possessed a dual personality, mixing in equal parts the tale of Mina Seward’s fight for survival with that of Dr. Van Helsing’s quest to defeat the Dark Prince. Despite the fact that the vampires themselves were usually the title characters, their existence in these films was little more than a means by which to challenge the human condition. This is one reason I was so utterly fascinated by Interview with the Vampire, a film in which the bloodthirsty undead finally take center stage. Mankind is barely a supporting player in this film. In fact, we’re little more than the main course.
Louis (Brad Pitt), a 200 year old vampire, longs to tell his story to the world. To this end, he grants an interview to reporter Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater), during which Louis conveys the dramatic details of his plunge into darkness. The year was 1791, and Louis, a New Orleans plantation owner whose wife had just passed away, decided, in despair, to take his own life. Before he has a chance to end it all, however, he meets Lestat (Tom Cruise), a vampire who, with a solitary bite on the neck, grants Louis the gift of eternal life. Shortly after his transformation, Louis begins to question whether such an existence is indeed a gift…or a curse. Plagued by the memories of his life as a mortal, Louis can’t bring himself to kill another human being, and chooses instead to feast on the blood of rats and other small animals. Lestat taunts Louis for his “misguided” morality, yet Louis never forgets what it was like to be human, leaving his ‘life’ as a vampire depressingly unfulfilled.
In Interview with the Vampire, Brad Pitt delivers an extraordinary performance as the monster who can’t escape the memory of his life before the darkness. His Louis despises the fact that he must draw the blood of innocents in order to survive, a direct contrast to Tom Cruise’s treacherous Lestat, who takes pleasure in the kill. When Louis lures a wealthy socialite (Lyla Hay Owen) out into the darkness with the intention of attacking her, he instead winds up murdering the woman’s two poodles, drinking their blood as his intended victim screams for help. While the failure to ignore his own humanity works against Louis at the outset, this very quality will eventually make him the envy of others of his kind, including Armand (Antonio Banderas), the leader of a band of vampires whom Louis encounters one year in Paris. Armand recognizes that Louis, despite his feelings of inadequacy, is, in fact, the perfect vampire; a being who has achieved immortality, yet continues to maintain a very mortal frame of mind.
When it comes to movie monsters (in particular any of the ‘classic’ creatures), it’s usually the pathetic ones, such as Frankenstein’s monster, that gather up most of the audience’s sympathy, while vampires, symbols of the true harbingers of evil, are reviled the world over. In Interview with the Vampire, we get to know these children of the night who were once, and not long ago, mortals just like us. We discover that the craving for blood does not entirely wipe away the guilt for having to spill it, and that, even among the eternally damned, there remains a glimmer of humanity, no matter how many hundreds of years may pass.