Saturday, December 4, 2010

Critical Analysis – Warm-Blooded: True Blood and Let The Right One In

UPDATE: More material, academic papers, analysis & critique @ my current blog Elastic Collisions -

“Predatory Hierarchy and Vampires”

                Vampires have long been an icon that challenges the idea of ‘myth’ while also being a perfect example of the term itself. Long before Bram Stokers Dracula, there was Carmella, the lesbian vampire. Before this there were the ancient Greek tales of the Lamia, who are best described by  Lawson "....the chief characteristics of the Lamiae, apart from their thirst for blood, are their uncleanliness, their gluttony, and their stupidity" (LAWSON) that would suck the life essence of children. The difference with the vampire, however, is that while other monstrosities of literature and entertainment are considered mostly a natural evil, that is, in and of themselves capable of harm to general human interest, vampires are a commentary of relationships through a sort of deception. When a reader is first introduced to Dracula, they are shown what Jonathon Harker sees; hairy palms, an age that changes one day to the next. Dracula’s visage is initially, at the beginning of the story, made detestable to the point where Jonathon Harker states "As the Count leaned over me and his hands touched me... a horrible feeling of nausea came over me, which, do what I would, I could not conceal." (STOKER, 30).  Similar, in contemporary literature with Let The Right One In by XXXX, we also have a young vampire named Eli who “smells of death” one moment and then looks healthy the next (this of course, is after feeding).  Both these examples from authors born in different centuries help illustrate a common characteristic of the vampire; it is more than just a mythical, evil being. In fact, vampires are representation of much larger ideas, such as reverse colonization and false friendship. One article that helps illustrate and compare these ideas is Warm Blooded: True Blood and Let The Right One In by J.M. Tyree.
                In this article Tyree compares the ideas of vampires throughout time, concentrating on contemporary vampires and their meaning in society. Tyree compares many common known vampires and literature, including from I Am Legend, Dracula and Twilight. For the purposes of this analysis, some page 37 of Film Quarterly Month will be looked at in particular. Some brie quotations are important to consider with these ideas of false friendship, reverse colonization and how they will play into predatory hierarchy,
                “LaFanu (writer of 1872 lesbian thriller Carmilla) remarks of Carmilla’s victim in her isolate home. “How great an event the introduction of a new friend is, in such solitude,” (One chill in Stoker involves the way count Dracula uses the word “friend” interchangeably to refer to English people and English books.) Vampires , and those who have dealings with them, have a deeply ingrained lonely status, whether it’s Count Dracula forcing his way into English society, Buffy amid the castes and schedules of Sunnydale High… Allan Gray in Vampyr or Jesus Gris who after turning into a vampire in Cronos, says, “I feel like I don’t belong at all.” (TYREE, 37)
                This article shows us some important themes the author is trying to convey. This includes the importance of vampires needing someone else. Consider the aspect of vampires, shown in both Dracula and Let the right One In that a vampire must be invited into a home before they are allowed to enter. The whole aspect of deception is necessary to a vampires survival, but that deception is dependent either out an outside source, such as Hakan with Let the Right One In, or Jonathon Harker in Dracula, who teaches Dracula how to be English for his survival. With this in mind it is understandable to assume that this “false friendship”, as Tyree so mentions, is actually a survival mechanism, not an emotional response from vampires. The vampire as a myth is actually more complex than Tyree perhaps imagines in his enlightening essay. An important aspect that Tyree overlooks is the foreign assimilation and predatory hierarchy. Vampires are just like humans; most humans feel like they do not belong and are also alone. Tyree assumes that vampires experience some enhanced or augmented form of loneliness by needing humans as food, but really, this predatory hierarchy is a reflection of reverse colonization (the fear of those that are colonized coming to the land that has colonized them) and also sheds some light to a different idea. This idea is that humans and vampires both use each other as prey, much as the class system demonstrates.
With Bram Stokers Dracula the author demonstrates predator hierarchy in two ways. Both can be seen through the character Renfield, who Dracula preys upon. Renfield feasts upon flies, but also saves some to trap larger insects, to eventually attract worms who attract birds. Renfield demonstrates class hierarchy with actual food chain hierarchy. This is a good example of why vampires are larger than their myths; they are much more complex, representing cultural issues. Renfield is feeding upon smaller forms of life to keep one larger form of life alive. This is how Stoker, a Irishman (Irishmen were quite marginalized by Britain in the 19th century), demonstrates the faults of the middle class system and the industrial age. A second way Dracula demonstrates predatory hierarchy is with the death of Morris at the end of Dracula. Quincy Morris, an American, is killed by the foreign influence (Dracula), leaving only the Englishmen behind.
                With Let the Right One In, Eli is always made as an outsider in a similar way that Dracula is. This is mostly due to the actions of adults around her (comically reminiscent of childhood mentality; being frustrated that your reality is determined by the whims of adults, whose rules make no sense to a child) forcing her into scenarios. However, Eli is also an outsider in any land she inhabits. Her survival is dependant upon Hakan to procure food for her, of which Eli cannot do (again, consider the Harker/Hakan comparison). If she does not feed, she begins to smell and look horrid, much like Dracula. In this regard, the immigrants, Eli and Dracula, still require some essence of local life to feel alive. What is interesting is that the biggest fear associated with their myths is that they assimilate into normal culture unnoticed. Eli shows this with her relationship with Oskar; she nearly grooms normal local boy to become her next Hakan by the novels end. This shows the manipulative, survival aspects of vampires. Indeed, John Ajvide Lindqvist is very interested with vampire physiology, much as Bram Stoker was in Dracula.
Since vampires look at humans as food, there is an element of use there that pollutes any aspect of friendship. This is where Tyree’s false friendship can best be demonstrated; vampires will make friends of their food before feeding on occasion. With Let The Right One In and Dracula, both vampires are shown to be more than evil at the beginning of their respective novel. Eventually, it is revealed that Eli, who Oskar believes is a girl, is actually a boy who has been mutilated and has no actual genitals. This brings a new type of perversion when Eli tells Oskar that he is “Not really a girl.”         Eli is eventually revealed to be a character that has been molested, raped and mutilated. In the same vein, Dracula is a character that has fought to preserve his homeland and is well educated. When Van Helsing comes upon Dracula’s library, he remarks how astonished he is with the extent of its contents. Van Helsing’s astonishment makes Dracula’s threat genuine in a more honest manner; he is able to use technology and research just as well as his Victorian counterparts. In essence, he is the same as them, and not this evil vampire myth, just as Eli is not some feral and evil child, but a complex character.
                All vampires have an ability to use false friendship for a means, but that means is larger than just feeding upon. Vampires are social commentaries, and their feeding is actual as pedestrian as what people do to each other constantly. The very notion of working hours for wages is vampiric.
Tyree also notes that “…this pattern of seduction and betrayal is not at all that goes on in the latest incarnation of the vampire myth – in fact, rather the opposite is the case. Against enemies living or undead, Edward, Bill and Eli will defend the fragile bodies of their younger lovers, and their reasons for doing so go beyond the vested interest in having self replenishing bags of fresh blood around for themselves. They aren’t false friends. What they truly desire is something different – they wish for an end to their interminable loneliness.” (TYREE 37)
                Here, Tyree places importance on the myth of the vampire actually requiring something that is universally understandable to everyone; not wanting to be alone. Tyree ignores the ideas of reverse colonization, however; Dracula and Eli represent foreigners coming upon a land and sapping it of their resources, of which the ‘mother land’ originally did themselves. It is true that Eli makes a real friendship, but can the reader truly surmise that it is genuine? This very ending that the novel brings forth works so well because it is so universally identifiable to how humans question their own relationships. Indeed, these friendships can be self serving to provide further defense that the contemporary vampire needs life to sustain itself. When one considers all this, Vampires quickly become a model into introducing the darkest aspects of the human construct.
                When a reader considers predatory hierarchy in the context of class and food struggle, vampires take on a much more universal role. Tyree recognizes the importance of a vampire needing a relationship with its prey, however he also just assumes that vampires represent a simple instinct and that Let the Right One In tells the tragedy of such a relationship. The truth is a little more unsettling; the myth of the vampire is equal to the myth of humanity, it just has a sharper set of teeth.

Works Cited

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2004. 30. Print.

Tyree, J. M. "Warm Blooded: True Blood and Let The Right One In." Film Quarterly. 2008: 37. Print. 

Lawson, Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion: A Study in Survivals. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press,  1910. Web.

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