THE ADDICTION directed by Abel Ferrara (USA, 1995)
I wanted to see this movie since, according to the Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw, it is the best film ever made.
I like Bradshaw’s reviews and more often than not agree with his opinions. I especially like the fact that he doesn’t take an elitist position; he is as likely praise the merits of Toy Story as the works of Tarkovsky.
The Addiction is a vampire movie like no other. Actually it is better to see it as an intense existential drama with theological overtones rather than as a straight horror film.
The fact that it is shot in black and white means that we are left to imagine the full goriness of the scenes. If it had been in color, I think the effect would have been quite different. For example, a graduation party that turns into a orgiastic bloodfest would have had the look of a splatter movie.
Lili Taylor plays philosophy student Kathleen Conklin who is dragged into an alley and bitten by another woman and becomes a vampire (although the V word is never once mentioned).
Kathleen’s subsequent hunger for blood is an obvious metaphor for drug addiction. The streets of New York are full of Junkies, she is different only in that her fix is blood rather than heroine. As well as the classic neck bite option she is also seen shooting up with a needle and syringe.
Her academic studies into human atrocities involve viewing newsreels of the U.S. war crimes in Vietnam and grim footage from concentration camps in WWII Germany.These are actually the most shocking images in the movie, adding substance to Kathleen’s assertion that human beings do not learn from history but is cursed to repeat despicable and indefensible acts under the cloak of warped political causes.
She maintains that mankind is cursed to live with this guilt just as she is cursed with immortality. Being undead means she sees the morally corrupt world and the debauchery of warfare without feeling inclined to draw any hopeful conclusions.
The script by Nichloas St. John name checks literary heavyweights including Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, William S.Burroughs and Kierkegaard. Kathleen’s condition means that she understands these writers who grappled with issues of being and nothingness with greater clarity. Their works are not studied as academic texts but as secular alternatives to philosphies that draw false comfort from religion. In other words, she sees the world stripped of all the superficial notions that mankind is capable of learning from the errors of the past.
At the centre of the movie is a cameo by Chistopher Walken as Peina, a man who speaks of his Nietzschean struggle to live a life that is to all outward appearances normal. He quotes from Beyond Good and Evil, seeing his battle to live with his addiction in terms of the will to power.
Ferrara was raised as a Catholic and screenwriter Nicolas St-John is apparently a committed Christian so the ambiguous ending may justifiably be read by believers as advocating the need to accept Christ as the saviour.
It’s true that a young man handing out religious leaflets and a priest who gives absolution both escape being bitten but you’d need a highly selective reading to draw spiritual comfort from a film that exposes the sins of humanity in such uncompromising terms.
I am puzzled as to why Peter Bradshaw regards Ferrara’s movie so highly.I would rate The Addiction is an intelligent, unconventional and interesting film but no masterpiece.