BYZANTIUM. Wonderfully unsettling tale of vampires
The eternal dream of humanity – immortality. Eternal youth ensconced in an indestructible body. Since the dawn of history, this issue has fascinated and served as fodder for the vivid imaginations of sensitive poets, playwrights, and prose writers from various parts of the world. Vampires, children of the night, are beings suspended between life and death. The price of immortality is loneliness, renunciation of humanity, and eternal wandering marked by a curse.
“We buy life with spilled blood,” Clara (Gemma Arterton) says melancholically, the errant mother of an unhappy daughter, in Neil Jordan’s latest work, the author of “Interview with the Vampire.” Forever bound to each other, they lead a life marked by pain and despair. Blind fate leads them to a small seaside town in Ireland, where their destiny will be fulfilled.
Lyrical and endowed with a slow but in no way tedious narrative, Byzantium explores the theme of vampirism in an exceptionally intriguing way. In this magical film, where two women flee from mysterious men whose stories intertwine with theirs as the plot unfolds, and through suggestive flashbacks that simultaneously serve as a parallel time thread, we slowly learn – not that the story is told boringly – how these women became vampires and what it means for them in eternity.
If one of them is an exceptionally liberated woman, as evidenced by the fact that she earns a living as a prostitute or stripper, the other, Eleonor (perfectly portrayed by Saoirse Ronan), is her opposite. A 200-year-old teenager with a sensitive soul, nostalgically oriented towards life. She constantly recalls the hurts and traumas she has experienced, which the audience learns about as the events unfold. Each character is so deep that we understand their intentions, feel the swirling emotions, mostly negative, of course. Sadness, guilt, loneliness, and perpetually hidden secrets weigh on Eleonor’s soul tainted by cunning evil. She is forced to kill, but she copes with it much worse than her unscrupulous companion. She deals death to older people who choose such an end consciously – a peculiar euthanasia, advocated by the director and the author of the play, Moira Buffini, on which this eerie tale is based. This is just one of several sensitive topics that Byzantium addresses. There will also be room for debate on feminism and the marginalization of women’s roles in a patriarchal world ruled by men. This is reflected in the characters of the emissaries of the vampire brotherhood, which prohibits women from attaining this dubious honor, so both ladies are condemned to condemnation and an existence marked by loneliness.
The rest of the plot should not be revealed. The shots and set design in Byzantium are extremely beautiful. At first glance, it may seem clichéd, as once again we have desolate, overcast coasts whipped by winter winds, in the background of which a dreamy, picturesque, and at the same time unsettling town completes the postcard atmosphere. Nevertheless, these places are photographed with such virtuosity that we do not think of or perceive them in the categories of unintended kitsch. It is pure magical poetry breathing delicacy and subtlety in almost every frame. Even in moments of horror, when it is truly frightening and disgusting (scenes of piercing the necks of victims with a specially sharpened and purposefully grown thumb), it is violence that has something of the grace of a ballet master or the evanescence of a butterfly. The atmosphere of being frozen in time and space gives the film the characteristics of a certain apathetic sublimity, explaining and illustrating the state of mind of both heroines. Real life is present somewhere nearby, we see it as Clara and Eleonore see it, but this reality is separated by a kind of foggy, milky glass through which, although we see a little, it is an unattainable dimension and is only a tiny dot on the infinite axis of time.
We don’t even know when the movie ends. The whole mystery is finally explained, and time continues to flow… along with those who have fallen into its calm and lazy current. The journey is long, but it is another installment for the debt of eternal existence.
Byzantium is a wonderfully unsettling tale of vampires and their personification. It is a humanistic psychodrama about loneliness, the search for love, and understanding in a world full of ignorance and mundane perceptions of reality.