Review of Abel Ferrara's The Addiction (1995)
A slow moving, yet slick black and white take on vampirism. No Victorian garb, no corsets and no mortals painstakingly trying to convince vampires to turn them into immortals.
The Addiction is widely regarded as an allegorical tale of drug addiction, but there is inconclusive evidence to dispel my theory that the main character is brainwashed to believe that she is a vampire.
Kathleen Conklin (Lili Taylor) is a philosophy student who is shocked to learn about the My Lai massacre in one of her lectures. After escaping this environment of controlled information flow, she walks home in a state of emotional distress.
A vampire wench (Annabella Sciorra) attacks Kathleen by dragging her into an alley, making big eye scary faces and prompting Kathleen to order her to go away. Kathleen is caught off guard slightly, because those in humanities tend to be timid. Come to think of it, they also tend to be bucktoothed trend whores. The outdated (c)Rap music on the soundtrack testifies to that.
Is The Addiction about vampires? Photo courtesy of Can Stock Photo.
"Order me to go away"
Kathleen yelps a pathetic "please..." and the vampire wench bites her. Clearly, ambiguity is not a wise recourse when dragged into a darkened alley by someone taller than you. The vampire wench licks the blood off her own chin in a manner which suggests she regularly goes out with the sole purpose of ingesting the body fluids of impressionable girls. I can relate somewhat.
"It's not my actions but your incredulity that needs examination here"
Reborn as a vampire, Kathleen acclimatises herself to her new condition. She systematically upgrades from the morally grey area of using hapless homeless people as makeshift blood banks by drawing their blood inconspicuously to view the world in more black and white moral terms.
These terms position her as a predator of the ultimate mammalian predators. Only vampire rules apply to her, which is why she tells one of her shocked victims: "It's not my actions but your incredulity that needs examination here".
But all is not ponies and rainbows. Kathleen becomes self-destructive and realises she needs a little guidance in her newly-found vampire reality tunnel.
Or could The Addiction be about drug addiction?
There's no such thing as a free Naked Lunch
Peina (Christopher Walken) counsels Kathleen. He is allegedly a vampire who has overcome his thirst for blood. While comforting Kathleen in a slightly inappropriate sage-like manner, he considers it an apt time to start a book club. William S Burroughs' Naked Lunch makes the top of the list for that week.
"I'm not like you, you're nothing"
Seemingly converted to the fasting and meditation of Peina, Kathleen manages to finish her doctoral thesis. She has a graduation party but then all her colleagues in attendance get mauled in an orgiastic blood drinking rite.
Kathleen becomes ill and ends up in hospital. She asks the nurse to open the blinds, which would traditionally kill a vampire. The original vampire wench arrives to close the blinds again, claiming that suicide will not end the quest for rest. Kathleen has a change of heart, as opposed to just a change of blood, and confesses to a catholic priest.
"Self-revelation is annihilation of self"
The closing scene features a shot of Kathleen's grave. She lays a rose on her own grave, and then walks away.
On the surface, it seems like an obvious allegorical tale of heroin addiction. The cravings, the mainlining, the mucking about in darkened alleys all seem to contribute to this allusion, but upon closer inspection it becomes apparent that the subtext is one that parallels Lifton's eight criteria for thought reform.
Or is The Addiction about mind control?
Lifton's Eight Criteria for Thought Reform
- Milieu Control: Controlling the flow of information in a setting such as this is not a logistical nightmare. The entire film takes place in what appears to be one block in the Bronx. A vigilante group of vampires can likely overcome their fears of hepatitis and condition a victim such as Kathleen to also overcome similar fears by exercising control over a relatively small environment.
- Mystical Manipulation: Someone with fangs jumping you on a street corner in the middle of the night would arguably count as a mystical manipulation. Similarly, Peina claims some mystical manipulation of his thirst for blood. This is despite offering no evidence that he is in fact a vampire.
- Demand for Purity: Between Peina and the original vampire wench, Kathleen is expected to be either a vicious predator or an aloof ascetic vampire. To them, a golden means is not possible within their group. This is despite Kathleen's initial reaction of acquiring blood in less sinister ways and then mainlining it. Not exactly kosher, but less conspicuous than dealing with a large number of unpredictable converts.
- Confession: Peina and the vampire wench stalk Kathleen and keep tabs on her actions. They appear at opportune and inopportune times to present themselves as benevolent creatures. It is doubtful that they have Kathleen's best interests at heart, especially since the vampire wench and Kathleen apply a little Affirmative Action of their own on Kathleen's faculty staff.
Kathleen has no confidentiality. All her actions are made known to the others of the group, either by her own admission or by some apparently mystical manipulation.
- Sacred Science: None of Kathleen's actions seem to be good enough for the group. If she chooses the option of becoming a vicious predator, Peina reprimands her. If she chooses the path of aloof ascetism, the vampire wench convinces her to leech on her faculty staff. Either way, the group's doctrine is not to be questioned by Kathleen.
- Loading the Language: The group clearly has its own jargon. Phrases such as 'order me to go away' obtain new meaning within the context of this group, and Kathleen even begins to hurl similar jargon at her victims. In the view of this group, the victims are the ones who are to blame for being at the mercy of vampires because they are not strong enough to offer any resistance.
- Doctrine over person: Personal experiences are considered irrelevant and subordinate to the experiences the group prescribes. In light of this doctrine, it becomes more clear why Peina and the vampire wench seemingly contradict each other. They are instilling a doctrine over the person of Kathleen by breaking down her mental resistance.
- Dispensing of existence: Clearly, the group has the final say in who stays and who goes. Kathleen was chosen to be at the mercy of the group, and Kathleen has no way of getting out of this situation. Not even when she attempts suicide. Kathleen's individual existence is valuable to the group, for reasons unknown, and her existence will only be allowed to come to an end when the group decides that her existence is dispensable.
It is truly shocking that all of Lifton's eight criteria for thought reform are met by religious and political movements, but The Addiction is a pretty cool movie. Despite no inexplicable booby shots. It is an attempt at an art for art's sake film, so it doesn't really qualify as a horror movie. Its slow pace, its loaded language, its lack of flashy editing and its tiresome scenes of agony might not appeal to other gorewhores out there, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Ken Kelsch is a brilliant cinematographer and deserves a special mention. The shots are composed exquisitely and they manage to make the black and white format come alive. This is despite the film being shot in only 20 days!
The Addiction proves that sometimes buckets of blood and inexplicable boobshots are not required to produce a compelling film. Sometimes an existential crisis brought about by attempts at thought reform are sufficient.