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Vampires in Hard Times

by KIM NICOLINI

Despite Mercury’ efforts to turn all my plans and communications on their head yesterday, I did manage to make it to the Spierig brothers’ Daybreakers. And I gotta say that it was the perfect movie to go to after a day of hell.   Certainly Daybreakers is no masterpiece, but this little Australian vampire movie is a heck of a lot of fun. I mean, it’s so nice to see a vampire movie that is a literal translation of Karl Marx rather than some Mormon wingnut’s propaganda for abstinence (a.k.a. Twiglight). Staring Ethan Hawke as the good guy, Sam Neil as the bad guy, and Willem Dafoe as the comic relief, Daybreakers puts fangs on the face of capitalism and takes down the system with a lot of gore and cheese. And frankly, I love watching capitalism eviscerated with core and cheese.

This is the basic idea behind the movie, in case you want to know. The year is somewhere in the very near future, and the epidemic of global capitalism has reached its pinnacle of power. Nearly all humans have been wiped out, and vampires have become the norm — vampires who have an unquenchable thirst for blood, who have been conditioned to consume, consume, consume, and whose very nature is driven by their desire for consumption. Blood, of course, is hard to come by because that damn vampire system sucked it all down its greedy throat. But that’s okay, because Big Pharma global blood supplier Bromley Marks is here to step in, control the blood supply and create a blood substitute to appease (and control) the masses. The problem is that the Ice King Vampire Despot (Sam Neil) of Bromley Marks forgot to read his Karl Marx, and basically he becomes a victim of his own system. Yes indeed, Daybreakers pretty much follows a textbook trajectory of the fall of capitalism as detailed by Ye Olde Karl Marx. First it saturates the system with its products, consumes the masses, and wipes out their ability to consume the products, and then eventually it feeds off itself until it kills itself in a greedy act of self-cannibalism. That is exactly the storyline of Daybreakers! In fact, look out the window. It’s the storyline of our current world!

The world we see in Daybreakers isn’t a hell of a lot different than our world. Look at those kids on the corner sitting around texting each other on their Blackberry Things. And look at those television screens pumping their global economic propaganda through Fox News equivalents. Look at those starving homeless vampires begging on the streets. And look at the long line of thirsty vampires at that Blood Brewing Starbucks that guarantees it’s serving 20% real blood in every cup! Certainly that is Marx in a nutshell. When you consume mass-produced products, for the large part, you are consuming blood. Remember that. Hah.

But the movie is much more fun than the world. The movie has people like Ethan Hawkes in it.  Ethan plays Edward Dalton, a hematologist and a Vampire With A Conscience, who works for the Evil Empire. (For the record, he’s damn good at his role. He just looks so tormented by conscience and thirst in every scene.) Edward is dedicated to inventing a human blood substitute so that the vampires no longer have to farm the last remaining humans on the planet and suck, I mean sell, their blood. Speaking of human farming, there are a few really awesomely creepy scenes where naked humans are suspended in vast high-tech blood farms within the glossy bowels of Bromley Marks. Their bodies are all hooked up with special high tech blood suckers that keep the humans just alive enough to produce blood. You don’t want to end up there. It’s a Very Bad Place. Trust me. And if Edward achieves his goal, you won’t have to. By the way, what’s up with vampires named Edward who have a conscience? It certainly can’t be an accident that both Daybreakers and Twilight feature Edwards With A Conscience. Maybe the Spierig brothers are saying, “Hey peoples. Conscience isn’t about not fucking. It’s about not letting the system fuck people over.”

Well unfortunately, Edward is deluded because really Bromley Marks doesn’t want to invent a cure, as that fucker Charles Bromley tells us in no uncertain terms. Cures don’t generate profits for the global corporate powers. Bromley doesn’t want to cure the epidemic. How would that serve him and his economic interests? He wants to control the disease by selling synthetic blood to the masses while the rich fuckers on top dine on the elite supply of real human blood. That’s messed up! But it certainly isn’t science fiction. It all sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

But luckily the movie provides enough buffer of cheese and gore so that we can feel removed just enough from the real world to enjoy the fun of the movie and not feel like we are being preached to. After all, this isn’t a Michael Moore movie. It’s a B vampire movie.

Fun, for the most part, comes from Willem Dafoe’s “cured” vampire Lionel. Lionel is simultaneously a dumb hick and smart as hell. I mean, he discovered the cure – the sun! Yep, leave it to a regular old working class car mechanic to figure out the cure for vampirism – the hair of the dog that bit you, so to speak. Lionel is given some of the most memorable and cheesiest lines in the movie, lines which underscore both his simplicity and brilliance. For example, in the best line of the film, Lionel says: “Living in a world full of vampires is about as safe as bare-backing a five dollar whore.” Ouch. While on the surface that may sound really offensive, the truth of the matter is that Lionel’s reference to “safe” sex is also a reference to AIDS, and it’s not too far of a stretch to equate Bromley Marks’ control over synthetic blood and the vampire epidemic to present day Big Pharma control of AIDS drugs and pharmaceutical companies’ refusal to make the drugs available to the millions of impoverished Africans dying from the disease. Poor Africans make no profits for Global Pharma. Nevertheless, you’d have to put all the pieces together to get to that point in the movie, that Lionel’s funny $5 whore remark is actually a horrible reflection on Big Pharma in our current Vampire Economy. However, we never have to dwell on it too hard because we are given the lovely diversion of Lionel’s Muscle Car Fetishism, and we can move from thinking about Big Pharma to ogling Lionel’s mean Trans Am, which is good because personally I think all movies look better with 70s muscle cars even when they are delivering an ugly message.

One of the things I like about this movie (besides the fact that it’s a literal translation of Karl Marx) is that it never falls into the mire of love interest. It has two female characters – Bromley’s daughter Alison and the female representative of the human rebel forces Audrey. The movie does such a good job at avoiding unnecessary love interest that it doesn’t even allow love to play a role in Charles Bromley’s relationship to his daughter. She hates him because he’s a greedy blood sucking vampire of the evil global economic empire. He wants her simply so he can control and own her, and in fact he turns her into a vampire so she can be “one of them.” She, like any good rebel, refuses to succumb to his ideology and therefore is murdered in a mass extermination led by Bromley. The extermination of the poor starving vampires is one of the most horrific in the movie where hordes of mutated impoverished vampires are dragged out into the sun by military tanks pulling the masses on chains shackled to their legs. The masses or the poor and disenfranchised are immediately incinerated by the sun’s power. Needless to say, between the vampires’ emaciated bodies and the mass incineration, there is little subtlety in the movie’s equation of global capitalism with fascism, a system that even sacrifices its own children to feed its greed.

The human rebel Audrey also avoids the stereotypical trap of being the girl the good guy fucks. Sure she looks hot and sexy in her taut muscular body and her seemingly endless supply of clean tight jeans and nipple-revealing t-shirts, but she never once shows a naked tit, kisses a man, or spreads her legs for anything other than to get a better stance to fire her crossbow into the head of a vampire. Audrey kicks butt, but she never gives up her butt. That makes this a way better movie, in my opinion. The only love interest in this movie is the evil Pharma empire’s despot Charles Bromley’s love of power, control, and money,  a love that eventually brings him to his own death. Yep, Bromley thinks he controls the world’s economy by controlling its supply of blood, yet eventually he is consumed by the very system that he created, and we watch his body torn to shreds by his vampire army as they feast on his blood. Yay for that.

Bromley’s death scene, by the way, is also a scene that is not done with much subtlety. It is done with excessive blood splattering gore as Bromley’s blood bursts in geysers and the vampire military licks it up. But of course, global capitalism is a gory system. There is not much that is subtle about its vampirism as it sucks the life out of the humans it exploits.  And the movie has plenty of gore to underscore this point, such as the scene at aforementioned Blood Serving Starbucks which is forced to dilute its brew to 5% from 20% blood due to the depleted global supply. Needless to say, this doesn’t go over too well on the masses who want their 20% blood, so they storm Starbucks, tear out the blood brewers and engage in an orgiastic blood revolt. That’s okay tough because the corporation-as-state police are always close at hand to keep the rebels at bay and send them off to be incinerated with Bromley’s daughter.

This all sounds a little excessive, but we live under a system of excess,  a system that is choking itself to death on its own excess. (Or at least I hope it is.) The important thing for you to know about Daybreakers and the world as shown in the movie is: Don’t worry. It may be ugly now. And there is a likely chance that it will get even uglier as Global Capitalism continues to sharpen its teeth on our lives. But eventually the system will consume itself, and we will rise out of the ashes and be able to stand in the sun (that is if the system eats itself before its toxic breath melts the polar ice caps and we all die in a flood). Fuck. We live in hard times.

Have a nice day.
KIM NICOLINI is an artist, poet and cultural critic. She lives in Tucson, Arizona with her daughter and a menagerie of beasts. She works a day job to support her art and culture habits. She is currently finishing a book-length essayistic memoir about being a teenage runaway in 1970s San Francisco. She can be reached at: knicolini@gmail.com.

 

 

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Kim Nicolini is an artist, poet and cultural critic living in Tucson, Arizona. Her writing has appeared in Bad Subjects, Punk Planet, Souciant, La Furia Umana, and The Berkeley Poetry Review. She recently completed a book of her artwork on Dead Rock Stars which will was featured in a solo show at Beyond Baroque in Venice, CA. She is also completing a book of herDirt Yards at Night photography project. Her first art book Mapping the Inside Out is available upon request. She can be reached at knicolini@gmail.com.

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