Accidental Love (David O Russell, USA/UK, 2015)American cinema, Blogpost, Film reviews
I wrote this review for The Conversation. They spiked it because they needed the piece to be shorter than it is, but did not see how to make it shorter and to get across the point that I am trying to make with it.
Why a website cannot be flexible with regard to word length beats me. Especially one that caters primarily to an academic audience. But there we go. The spike allows me to post it here, and at least without The Conversation‘s usual unmaginative headline – of the sort that makes you think Rabelais was correct about the Agelastes.
Also, editing out a reference to Karl Marx/Slavoj Žižek (which happened between drafts) seems strange to me, again given the academic readership of the publication. Some identity uncertainty seems to be in place: for whom is The Conversation? (With whom does it want to converse? On this occasion, apparently because I speak for too long and namedrop philosophers, not me!) Perhaps we see here an up-front/a priori (unthinking) capitulation to (unthinkingness and) academic research as only useful when of identifiable use (and preferably surplus) value.
Anyway, such speculation aside, here goes the review, which of course may be incomprehensible, as per the view of my editors. If this is so, and I am living alone in a land of blindness and stupidity, then I apologise…
The premise is utterly ridiculous. On the night that small town Indiana cop Scott (James Marsden) proposes to roller skate waitress Alice (Jessica Biel), a nail is driven through her skull during a DIY accident in a local restaurant.
Alice has no insurance, and so the hospital doctors refuse to operate (eating burgers instead). Basing his decision on the probability that the nail will cause Alice’s behaviour to become erratic, resulting eventually in death, Scott dumps her.
This prompts Alice to endeavour to win him back by going to Washington DC to see Congressman Howard Birdwell (Jake Gyllenhaal), who will help her to put through a healthcare bill that will allow those without insurance to receive medicare when necessary.
In Washington, Alice finds herself embroiled in a plot that involves Machiavellian intrigue as Birdwell bows to Representative Pam Hendrickson (Catherine Keener), who wishes to put into action her plan to build a military base on the moon – all in the name of defence.
What follows is a farce along the lines of the Marx Brothers meets Capra, something like Groucho Goes to Washington, except with more references to sex and to race.
The film’s ‘lunatic’ story involves Alice sleeping with Congressman Birdwell as a result of uncontrollable urges brought on by the presence of the nail in her brain. Everything nearly goes wrong, but after a dose of _deus ex machina_, the film ends with a wedding and everyone’s happy — even if the wider issue of healthcare remains unresolved (because who could resolve that issue without alienating a large chunk of the American audience?).
So … after giving you such a synopsis, you may well ask why I’m writing about this film, not least because it has been almost universally panned. Well, I’m interested because the film’s director, ‘Stephen Greene,’ is in fact a pseudonym for David O Russell, the successful director of such illustrious fare as Three Kings (1998), I Heart Huckabees (2004), The Fighter (2010), Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013). His second film, Flirting with Disaster (1996), demonstrated that he is perfectly capable of this kind of farcical comedy.
Why the change of name, then? Mainly because Accidental Love, which for a long time was to be called Nailed, is a film that went into production nearly ten years ago. However, owing to financial difficulties – on some occasions the crew wasn’t paid, while on others the cast quit for the same reason – it allegedly got shut down 14 times.
In 2010, Russell quit the film, which he had co-written with Al Gore’s daughter, Kristin Gore. The remaining scenes were supposedly shot without him. So the film, like Alice, was in effect lobotomised. Fast forward through five years of limbo, and Accidental Love gets released on all of the contemporary platforms (VOD, DVD, etc), including a small theatrical release in the USA – with test screenings apparently taking place unbeknownst to Russell and the stars in the interim.
Now, just because Russell at least partially directed it does not make Accidental Love particularly interesting (or particularly good). But what is interesting is what its troubled history reveals about contemporary Hollywood.
That a woman’s libido expresses itself only as a result of a nail in the brain (Alice’s lobotomy) is of course problematic. It suggests that female sexual desire is somehow abnormal, the result of a brain gone wrong. This in turn suggests that Hollywood cannot tolerate an active female sexuality.
(See how ScarJo in The Avengers films has to end up single because her agency, even if she can deflate the Hulk – male-eating Black Widow as causing loss of erection.)
But this plot device suggests to us that the film as a whole, like a nail in Hollywood’s head, also gives expression to things that the American film industry otherwise tries to deny. The film is a repeat of the kind of farcical films that today seem anachronistic and unfashionable – as made clear by the presence of supporting actors from another time in Paul ‘Pee Wee Herman’ Reubens and Kirstie Alley.
If Hollywood does anything, it repeats itself, returns over and again to the same things: sequels, remakes and ‘reboots.’ But if, in the spirit of Karl Marx and, more recently, Slavoj Žižek, what happens once is tragic and what repeats is farce, then the industry denies that this endless repetition is farcical. Rather than an admission of being forever out of ideas, we are told that this is perfectly controlled filmmaking.
Hollywood has sought to get rid of Accidental Love as quickly and as unnoticeably as it can (the film grossed a meagre US$4,500 at the American box office). And yet, that the film has resurfaced at all suggests the return of the repressed, namely the fact that the processes of repetition and return themselves reveal the film industry’s inability to know what it is doing and why.
You may have heard of a man called Phineas Gage. In 1848, he had a bar driven through his skull when at work – and yet he lived for many years while supposedly undergoing something of a complete overhaul of his personality (he was ‘no longer Gage’ say contemporaneous reports – although the validity of these has been doubted).
Accidental Love is something of a cinematic Phineas Gage – a film that got nailed in production and which continues to be nailed by the critical community.
And yet, in this accidentally lobotomised film, we might find much to learn about the ‘normal’ functioning of Hollywood’s film industry, just as Gage is the exception that allows us better to understand the brain’s role in ‘normal’ human behaviour.
Better put, in an era when industry, including the film industry, demands rationalisation and when risk is removed as much as possible (and one removes risk by sticking to what one knows, i.e. by repeating), Accidental Love helps us to understand that Hollywood, perhaps industry as a whole, is in fact deep down irrational, and that its compulsion to repeat and to return is a sign not of a reduction of risk, but really of its overall lack of control.
It is a sign that Hollywood, maybe even capital as a whole, is not superhuman and beyond question or doubt, but wonderfully, farcically, profoundly human – and thus wholly open to question and to doubt. With regard to Accidental Love, then, even if the film is no great shakes, sometimes there’s nothing so interesting as a complete failure.
The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (Sophie Fiennes, UK/Ireland, 2012)British cinema, Documentary, Film reviews
So, this blog post is not really a critique of Sophie Fiennes’ film, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, but more a critique of things that are said in it by its star and writer, pop philosopher Slavoj Žižek.
The film contains many delightful moments, with the usual interesting insight from Žižek, but ultimately I completely disagree with its core philosophy.
I think that this is summed up by Žižek towards the end of the film, when he says that each of us must realise that we are fundamentally and incontrovertibly alone in the universe.
Perhaps I take Žižek out of context slightly; he offers up our solitude as the logical consequence of there being no God.
However, I’d like to consider this matter from a slightly different angle: humans are not, to paraphrase John Donne, islands – and they cannot be so. And yet, Žižek would seem to suggest ultimately that we are all lost in our solipsistic little bubbles, with no real connection to anyone else ever happening.
While I recognise the emotion of solitude, and while I recognise the inevitability of perhaps never knowing any other human being, never being inside their head, never sharing entirely their life, I still shall argue that ultimately humans are not alone.
In effect, epistemologically speaking, humans might be alone – each knows only what each knows, and one cannot – necessarily – experience the world from without one’s own self/being (although more on this later); meanwhile, ontologically, we are not alone.
And if our ontological ‘withness’ can be accepted, then Žižek’s solipsistic worldview might be forced to crumble accordingly.
But we have to build towards this. And this is a blog post. So we shall do so as succinctly as we can and, alas, imperfectly.
How we are not alone
I lie in my bed. I feel my toes touching the end of the bed – a wooden frame. I cannot see the wooden frame, but I can feel it. I can only feel it because it is solid, and because it is supported by a floor, which itself is supported by a building, itself supported by the earth. I feel because I have a body, which itself functions as a result of blood flowing around me, which is possible in part as a result of my breathing oxygen on a planet whose atmosphere can support the life that has evolved to inhabit it. And while I may have great thoughts, even dreams, when I am on that bed, fundamentally I can only do so because I have a body, which exists on a planet whose atmosphere allows me to exist, and whose atmosphere is allowed thanks to planetary age and distance from the sun.
In other words, I am entirely embedded within a physical universe from which I cannot be separated. I am not alone.
That I speak language – any language, but in this instance English – and that I can recognise other human beings as such, as well as their emotions, is as a result of my having all my life interacted with other human beings.
A thought experiment: humans could be raised by machines, and thus human existence is not predicated upon the existence of other humans.
Indeed – it possibly true. We might run the argument of ‘who made those machines’ (although this points to the need for other humans). And we could follow the Bifo line of thought and say that humans are already raised predominantly by machines (mainly televisions) and that this machine-led life leads to humans being autistic (although this does not mean that those humans are not real humans).
But while the thought experiment is valid(-ish), the fact remains that I speak and think according to the conventions that have come about as a result of social living. I am not alone. This is what, for example, mirror neurons tell us: that humans are hard-wired to be social and sociable, to imitate and to learn from others. If Žižek did not believe this, he would not make a film to communicate with us.
Did Žižek make a film to communicate with us? (Becoming light)
I am not convinced that communication is really Žižek’s primary ambition in getting Sophie Fiennes to make this film (or in going along with Sophie Fiennes if it was she who proposed this and its predecessor, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (UK/Austria/Netherlands, 2006) to him).
This is not to say that Žižek does not communicate a plethora of interesting thoughts in his film. He does. But I think the chief rationale for Žižek to make this film is – facile though it may sound – self-promotion.
Žižek believes that we are all alone. To make a film in which he stars, and which basically features only him, would reaffirm as much. Let’s delve into this a bit more, though, because there is a nexus to be worked out that features something along the lines of cinema-neoliberalism-solipsism-Žižek, and all of which can be encapsulated under the concept of ‘becoming light.’
Becoming light is, simply put, the desire to make one’s life cinematic. It is recognisable in the highly visual culture of the contemporary world: people posting photos on Facebook, Tumblr or wherever, and which photos conform to a certain quality and style of image (often to do with warm lighting and a particular Hollywood-inspired aesthetic); people feeling alive at moments when their life conforms to moments in cinema that they have seen; people taking selfies so as to exist more as an image rather than as a flesh and blood human being – since our image is now considered the ‘real’ us ahead of the, er, real us; people desiring to transcend their real bodies to exist as light, as a star, on a silver screen; our fame and celebrity obsessed culture.
To become light, though, is also to divest oneself of a real body and to exist instead on an immaterial plane, or at least on a photonic plane – on a screen, projected to everyone.
If it is as a result of having a body that I realise that I cannot but be with the world and with other people, then it is in a desire to divest myself of my body and to become light that I dream of becoming cinematic, of existing on a plane without touch. This is falling in love with images of other people – masturbating over images of other people – as opposed to living with and being with other people (co-itus = going with other people).
The desire to live one’s life as if it were a film requires one to buy the sort of props that people in films have. This is about advertising, it is about stuff, and it is about what I shall broadly fit under the umbrella of neoliberalism: looking rich costs a lot of money, but if one does not look rich, one’s chances of becoming rich are slim – so one is forced to enter into the world of chasing material products in the pursuit of becoming rich, becoming immaterial, becoming light.
In this way, the desire to become cinema/to become light is tied to capitalism more generally, its neoliberal mode perhaps more specifically. For, if in becoming light I no longer touch anyone, I become a solipsist, living on my own.
But it is not just in becoming light that the solipsism starts. It is in the pursuit of becoming light. It is in ‘social Darwinism’ and ‘competition’ and the need to go further than anyone else to be the one who is noticed. It is a generalised need for exceptionalism. It is celebrity cult. It is the desire to be ‘famous’ at whatever cost – and better to be famous than a nobody, right?, because a nobody, paradoxically, only has their body, while a famous person has become light, has lost their body (even if dreams of sexual union with [images of] people is what drives the desire to become light).
We are all alone: this is the ethos of neoliberal capital. And it is the ethos that Slavoj Žižek also puts forward in an attempt to critique neoliberal capital. But, then again, Slavoj Žižek is saying this in a film about himself, starring himself. Of course Žižek says that we are alone at the moment when he becomes alone as a result of, finally, becoming cinema (inserting himself into movies, a kind of documented truth about set-jetting and the desire to ‘feel a bit of the magic of the movies’). Because not only is he alone, but he also sets himself apart from other people at this moment to become the celebrity that he wishes to be. Žižek wants to convince us that we are all ultimately alone because he is also at heart a stooly for the capitalist system that he otherwise proclaims to see through via his ideological critique.
Žižek consistently touches his nose during A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (and probably in his real life). There is something a bit obscene about this; but really it is Žižek’s ‘tell’.
What he is telling us is that he is indeed a pervert, but the perversion is not based upon any desire for a true encounter with the other, the nature of which is so twisted (say he likes copraphilia, or something) that he dares not speak its name. Rather, Žižek’s darkest desire is his solipsism – that he prefers masturbation over sex with another human being.
Of course, I am not making libellous claims about the ‘real’ Slavoj Žižek. We are in the realm of a metaphorical Žižek here. But the nose in the film is of course Žižek’s (metaphorical) cock, and of course he wants us to see him touching it in public, but he does not want to put it anywhere – because he must indulge in that most solipsistic and cinema-inspired act of jizzing not in his sexual partner, but on his sexual partner, or preferably just out in the open more generally (pornography’s infamous money-shot; sex becomes display and power games rather than going with someone).
Because of course a solipsist who believes in their own exceptional nature also believes that they cannot have offspring that will match them for brilliance, and so they do not see the point in reproducing. Instead, they just masturbate in public – asking everyone to behold their priapic prowess, while in fact being, ultimately, a solipsistic wanker.
So… Here we are with Žižek now indulging himself and asking us to indulge him by watching him become light while we mortals continue to lead our bodily existence.
That we are alone, that there is at the heart of reality, the Real of the Void itself is for Žižek the ultimate truth.
But in fact there is no void. The thing that is intolerable for humans is not the emptiness of the world and our sense of underlying solitude; what humans really fear through the capitalist ideology that demands solipsism as the most successful means to gain ‘happiness’ is touch, it is others, it is withness.
In other words, the void is the invention of capitalism. The void is not what lies ‘beyond’ ideology; it is ideology itself.
What lies ‘beyond’ ideology is the Real – but it is a Real so mundane as to be beautiful. It is our bodies, usurping our intentions at every turn, it is us bumping into things, tripping up in public, knocking into each other, seeing each other, smiling when someone else smiles at us, getting angry when public transport does not bend to our will. It is the everyday experience of waking up and getting frustrated and contradicted by a world that is always more profound and complex than our mere imaginations can wonder.
Don’t get me wrong; this is not an apology for leading a dreary life. On the contrary, it is an exhortation to find life in even the most dreary moment, rather than conferring to fetishised and cinematic moments a sense of being ‘really alive’. Because alive is all that we are ever are (and when we are not alive, we are, quite literally, not).
Otherness, withness, being not alone: this is all that we ever are. And to remember and to become as conscious as possible of this is the ultimate critique that one can enact upon the capitalist ideology that has naturalised the sense of the void, that has naturalised a sense of solipsism, that has naturalised a sense of being alone in the world.
Epistemology and ontology
Of course, Žižek probably knows all of this already. And the contention will always be: but even if we are with other people, how can we know this if we cannot know other people? And if we cannot know other people, or that we are with other people, then can we really be with other people? Upon what can one base this claim? Surely one bases this claim upon, ultimately, a leap of faith. An act of faith. An act.
This is a great contention. Here’s my reply.
Firstly, there is perhaps inevitably an over-emphasis in a capitalist culture like ours on the visual: one must have visible evidence to prove the existence of an object – and without it, it is as good as non-existent.
Well, if this perspective is indeed a by-product of a capitalist ideology, it perhaps can be re-thought. That is, we can perhaps consider what constitutes evidence through an alternative framework. And that framework might be touch – we can feel that we are not alone.
Furthermore, to stick to the visible realm, it is a question of what I shall term ‘incessant excess’. Black holes: we by definition cannot see them, because light cannot escape from them. And yet we know that black holes exist. Why? Because we can see the effects that they have on all that surrounds them.
Even if we cannot see, or know, others, because they are the equivalent of an epistemological black hole, we can nonetheless feel the presence of others, we can see their effects. Perhaps we cannot see them directly, but this speaks only of a deficiency in our perceptual systems (in our ideology) more than it does in anything else.
In other words, even if others exceed our perception, and even if it is in an incessant fashion that they do this, nonetheless, the excess always allows for something to ‘inceed’ from outside – an effect, a sense, a touch – not us touching ourselves, but a touch from the other.
We are not alone.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Timur Bekmambetov, USA, 2012)American cinema, Blogpost, Film reviews, Transnational Cinema, Uncategorized
Why this film to blog about?
Well, I only really want to make a simple point.
But before the point, a rant: while I have of late missed stuff that only shows on one screen and at only one time that I really would rather not have missed, the local multiplex showed this and it was on at a time I could go to and is not the other side of town. It is a pity that basic pragmatics dictate what we watch, but there we go.
Now, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is by no means the best film I’ve seen recently – but it is not the worst either. I’ll save my mini-comments about the other movies for another time.
But otherwise down to business. What is the point I want to make about AL:VH?
At several moments in the film, toys morph into real figures, evil vampire Adam (Rufus Sewell) morphs into an animated version of the story about himself that he is telling, moving shots of maps turn into fly-overs over supposedly real battlefields, and more.
It is this kind of shot that I want to discuss – the kind of shot where the map morphs into the terrain, such that the map is no longer separate from the terrain, but on a continuum with it – inseparable.
But this just sounds like a classic ‘postmodern’ argument, right? That is, in the postmodern era we are no longer aware of what is real and what is not.
This is not to say that we believe a film like AL:VH to be a documentary of some sort. Only a fuckwit believes that.
But it is to say that we live in an era when we can doubt and not believe whatever we wish to – since everything can be disproved, or rather since no one really believes in proof at all these days.
Since nothing can be proven or disproved, people believe what they want (and people refuse to discuss matters with people who do not share their opinion – perhaps the single most damaging human trait one can have, a kind of solipsistic closed-mindedness – meaning that the closed-minded person does not discuss at all, does not learn, and shrouds themselves in a discourse about rights whereby they declare their right to be a moron).
I can’t promise to argue that AL:VH suggests anything more profound than this in the kinds of shots mentioned above and which feature prominently in the film’s running time.
Nonetheless, I want to consider them in some detail, for the context of the film is also interesting.
That is, AL:VH is no normal vampire movie. It is claiming that the 16th President of the United States of America was a vampire hunter.
Again, no one believes this to be true (no one I would call sane, anyway). But what this means is that the film engages directly with history, which is something of a rarety for the vampire movie (as far as I am aware, and even though some prominent vampire films are also period costume dramas).
However, it is in keeping with the fluid shots of the film, in which model morphs into reality, that AL:VH should falsify history as it does. Here is a film in which there is no need to respect history – because it is all a bit of a joke and falsifiable anyway. So why not blatantly falsify it? This is in keeping with the spirit of the times we are living in, after all…
Perhaps only a post-Soviet filmmaker like Bekmambetov could do this. This is a generalisation – and as such in itself false – but without a god to fall back on, with the official history desecrated, the only rule left to follow is that there are no rules – and Abe Lincoln can be an axe-wielding ruthless vampire killer. Former Soviets know this; Westerners are beginning to know it better and better…
In the film, the vamps are made to stand in for the American South and for the benefits of slavery, in that Adam and his cronies live on a huge plantation down south and are implied as being slave owners and slave eaters.
However, the film here kind of mixes its messages. Okay – so slavery is indeed all about the consumption of humans, and so it stands to reason that the filmmakers would align slaveholders with vampires. But vampires are also people who wear black, who cannot come out in the day (a myth about vampires debunked in this film, as is the notion that it is only a stake through the heart that will kill them; plain silver does it), and who only function at night.
To me, this sounds at least in part similar to something trendy philosopher Slavoj Žižek says, when he discusses an
old European fairy-tale motif of diligent dwarfs (usually controlled by an evil magician) who, during the night, while people are asleep, emerge from their hiding-place and accomplish their work (set the house in order, cook the meals), so that when, in the morning, people awaken, they find their work magically done.
(For the full text, read here.)
I hope this is sufficiently clear – but what I am suggesting is that while vampires obviously consume human flesh, their behaviour is also like that of the slave already. While vampires are not going to set your house in order, their very invisibility (famously they have no mirror image) means that vampires are like slaves, too, together with all of the racial inequality that slavery has helped to produce.
In short, then, the film seems to argue that slavery is the invisible evil – both in terms of slaves (which in the USA has a distinct overlap with the country’s black population) and slave drivers (here, vampires).
But let us go further…
In another text, Žižek argues that batshit novelist Ayn Rand had one profound insight (and no more): that when money ceases to be in circulation, humans will begin to trade in flesh, using other humans as currency.
The reason that I mention this is because while AL:VH is set in the 1830s and onwards, it of course has been made in the early 2010s. And what is happening in the early 2010s is an economic meltdown that may yet prove to be the biggest since 1929, which in turn played a significant role in the development of world events between 1939 and 1945.
In other words, the shit might yet hit the fan as a result of this global economic crisis. And one of the ways in which that might happen is because without money, humans will trade in other humans. And perhaps even a film like AL:VH can imply something meaningful, then, in terms of how slavery remains an issue even today – and it is not something that is relegated uniquely to the past.
(This is, by the way, an issue – slavery, not vampire movies – that I have written about at greater length here.)
In this way, the ‘postmodern’ stuff – whereby we do not know truth from falseness – perhaps suits this film. It speaks both of how the invisible issue of slavery, believed eradicated, is in fact still with us today, and perhaps in more insidious (virtual?) fashions.
And, perhaps more importantly, it speaks of how in an age in which slavery is denied as existing, but which is also an age in which no one knows what is true anymore, then indeed there is perhaps only one logical truth that humans can accept – and that is their own experience.
What I mean to say by this is that people only know truth through their own bodies. It is not something to be read in a book or seen in a film. It is something to be experienced – with even thinking being (something like a) physical experience, even if a thought has no material reality for itself (you cannot touch a thought, though a thought can perhaps touch you).
If our truth is what is inscribed upon us, in that it is what physically marks us, it is our physical existence – then perhaps we already live in an age that is ripe for slavery and violence. For, bereft of any other marker, and cognizant of the fact that others are only ‘mere’ bodies, we perhaps decide to screw other people over – to trade in/with their bodies – before we choose to live a social existence.
In effect: there is no god and there is no law (Lincoln, played by Benjamin Walker, is studying the law, but basically sacks it off because the only law that slaveholders/vampires understand is the contents of a can of silver-tinted whoop-ass – i.e. learning the lesson that slavery is bad not in an abstract sense but through their bodies/experiences).
Since there is no god and no law, what is my incentive to be and/or do good by/with/to others? I have none. And since I live in a time in which only my own experience counts – in which, in effect, I cannot or perhaps will not learn from others, including the media and books, because those others are not telling me ‘the truth’ but are instead trying to ‘control’ me (even to enslave me and my precious tiny mind, I can kid myself!), then I have no reason to believe anyone who claims to lay down laws or hear from god.
How ironic, though, that it is the absence of ‘slavery’ (I lead my own life and no one else gets in my way) leads, within the context of a world also governed by economics, to, precisely, literal, real, physical, violent and nasty slavery.
A further irony: vampires function in films as proof of God, in that they are condemned to walk the earth forever as a result of their evil ways. In effect, the human propensity to be a slave driver, to be nasty to other humans, cannot be held in check by God. Even with God, even with the law, we make other humans suffer.
(Indeed, without God, or those who seeks to become powerful by claiming to be His representatives on Earth, Western slavery might never have taken the form that ultimately it did.)
So what emerges from a film as cynical as AL:VH is this morality: only violence solves problems, even though violence is also – more problematically – also the source of our problems. Do we solve our problems by addressing the problems, or by addressing the causes of the problems? AL:VH‘s AL decides not to use the law, to use thought and thinking, to encourage humans to think themselves ethically into a moral existence, but instead to use an axe.
He does not do what, ahem, university lecturers and some filmmakers try to do – and that is to try to encourage people to become better than what/who they are. Instead, he takes it as read that humans are bad and so just gets badder to get rid of the problem.
Indeed, as much is revealed in the person of Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who is Lincoln’s mentor and, lo, also a vampire. Sturgess is a ‘good’ vampire. I place ‘good’ in inverted commas, because while he helps Abe and does do some ass-kicking of his own, Sturgess nonetheless does kill people to live. Indeed, we and Lincoln see Sturgess kill a drunk. Lincoln is not so upright a human that he decides to do something about this (like dob Sturgess in), but instead takes mercy on him because of his lost girlfriend sob story – which he naïvely believes.
That Sturgess is a vampire but also ‘good’ functions not to suggest that not all vampires are bad; quite the opposite, it has a vampire tell us precisely that all vampires are bad and must be killed. In effect, Sturgess is the self-loathing Jew or black man who justifies the white man’s racism – thereby legitimating slavery, the Holocaust and other atrocities.
In some respects, AL:VH‘s seeming belief that we are simply our bodies (though we must remember that our bodies only exist in relation – with other bodies, with all that surrounds us), does not excuse AL:VH from the rather odd decision only to have one prominent black character, Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie) in a film not just about vampires, but also about emancipation from slavery.
For, if we do wear our truth on our person, then the absence of prominent black characters in the film suggests something like a denial of slavery (that truth remains invisible in the body of the film, a secret hidden in darkness and travelling the roads only at night, when the film’s blacks are harder for the audience to see anyway; that is, we can pretend they’re not there).
It suggests that slavery was created to provide the conditions for white men to establish themselves as heroes and villains – to destroy an ethical life whereby we think about how we relate to others, and to create a moral life in which we blindly follow moral rules by rote. I would suggest that, contrary to an ethical life, such a moral life takes no real account of human life. Instead, other humans – as blacks do in this film – function as an excuse for white humans to feel good about themselves.
Indeed, by making slave owners out to be vampires – i.e. precisely not human – the film places ‘over there’ (beyond the human) an issue that is really right here, which is not carried out by literal bloodsuckers, but which is put into motion by regular people like you and me. A human issue.
In order to defeat the vampire scourge, Lincoln commandeers all of America’s silver. How he manages to convince people that collecting silver is a legitimate war effort is not entirely known, but we do know this: Lincoln cannot really tell people that this is all about vampires, because they would just be too scared or not believe him. In other words, AL:VH suggests that people should just do as they’re told (Lincoln as tyrant) because they wouldn’t be able to handle the truth – the real truth being, of course, that there is no truth, there are no vampires, but that people need to believe in something in order to keep them in order and there’s money to be made from convincing them that this is so, so why no tax the shit out of silver, claim to send it down South in a big anti-vampire bomb – without letting on about the anti-vampire bit – and instead keep all of the silver for oneself, like any good corrupt politician would do. Lincoln’s memory takes a shoeing in this film!
People pool their silver in AL:VH – for vampires fear it as it reminds them of Judas betraying Christ. As if Christ could have become Christ without Judas and without the marking on his body of all of the hatred that mankind bears towards those who come peddling unwanted truths.
This pooling of resources might seem to point to the possibility of a common wealth: we can all just share everything and thus overcome our problems.
Except that sharing is a phantom, suggested to the people by Lincoln who, as mentioned, does not use the silver for the purposes suggested at all (killing vampires). Does he in fact run off with the silver? Either way, there is no sharing, as the presence of Sturgess in the White House at film’s end suggests. As Sturgess offers to make Lincoln immortal, and as Lincoln goes to the theatre to die (he will be shot by pro-vampire conspiracist John Wilkes Booth), we get the sense that the vampires are here and will never go away. That the desire to share is not genuine; it is the desire to give away one’s silver in order to feel slighted by one’s government. To attest to one’s own powerlessness. To feel disenfranchised and misunderstood. To feel as though one cannot trust anyone. To feel as though one only has one’s own body. To be a closed minded solipsist who reinforces the system of consumption and waste that AL:VH claims to be defeating.
Vampires believe in God, but they are condemned for their bad faith. To believe nothing and no one, to be a solipsist who only relies on their self, that is also to have bad faith. To have no faith in anyone else. Perhaps not even in one’s self. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter suggests that we are all vampires now.