The only Vampire-Western mash-up that I’m aware of, Near Dark, might also be the most humanistic entry in the vampire genre. Director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Point Break) combines the romantically erotic with the more fundamentally human need for connection. Sex and the social bonds between humans aren’t one and the same, but they both reflect the “creative impulse.” It’s in this sense that Near Dark is erotic cinema.
In the Greco-Roman tradition, eros meant something more than pertaining to sexuality. A modern dictionary preserves this meaning: “the sum of life-preserving instincts that are manifested as impulses to gratify basic needs, as sublimated impulses, and as impulses to protect and preserve the body and mind.” For the newly turned vampire Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar), this life-preserving and creative impulse comes in the refusal to participate in the final vampiric initiation: the murdering of a human to drink their blood.
Caleb’s not completely opposed to blood-drinking—he will drink from the consenting Mae’s (Jenny Wright) arms, who turned him after a flirtatious sexual encounter. His refusal to kill, and his preference for Mae’s blood, are at the humanistic core of Bigelow’s second feature.
The combination of the western and vampire genres gives more weight to the film’s governing philosophy. Film critics and scholars usually interpret the driving force of the western as the conflict between humans (usually men) and nature—it’s about the perseverance of human life and will; vampire movies, by contrast, often follow the film’s monsters and thus are driven by the death-drive. Eros and Thanatos, to use Freudian terms, are best represented by these two genres, which in turn are personified in Caleb’s struggle.
The filmmakers match the kernel of the plot in their use of light and dark to color the atmosphere. At times, Near Dark might as well be monochromatic. While not revolutionary in any of its formal elements, its style so precisely matches the content that every directorial choice feels indelible.
These indelible choices will be preserved in their original and ideal quality at Coolidge Corner Theatre’s 35MM showing on 11/26.
dir. Kathryn Bigelow
Screens Friday, 11/26 in 35MM at Coolidge Corner Theatre – midnight!
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