¶ … Movie: Interview with a Vampire
Before the modern infatuation with vampire, werewolves, and other supernatural things, stories that dealt with the supernatural were often relegated not only to the fantasy genre, but also considered beneath consideration. However, the genre shifted with Anne Rice's 1976 publication of Interview with the Vampire, a novel that told the sweeping story of an vampire Louis, his life as a human being, his transformation into a vampire, and his troubled relationships with his sire, Lestat, and their child, Claudia. The novel, which is often considered the second most influential vampire novel after Bram Stoker's Dracula, did much to change the modern image of the vampire. Rather than being viewed as monstrous and evil, Anne Rice's portrayal of Louis characterized him as a victim who did not understand his immortality when he received it, and, as a result, simultaneously feared and embraced death. The book developed a significant following and was the first in Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles. Moreover, the characters introduced in the book went on to play cameo roles in many of her other works, so that almost every one of her books that features a supernatural storyline has some connection to the Interview with the Vampire. In other words, there were exceedingly high expectations for any movie adaptation of the novel.
As one might expect, the huge fan base for the entire book series meant that any movie adaptation of the book was going to face severe criticism. The time constraints of a movie make it impossible to capture all of the details in a novel the length of Interview with the Vampire. Moreover, some of the novel's more troubling ethical elements would have created ethical issues for the filmmakers, necessitating some changes that changed not only the content, but the tone of some of the characters. Perhaps most controversial was the casting of the movie, with even Anne Rice initially lamenting the director's choice of Tom Cruise to portray the vampire Lestat. This paper will examine the book and the movie, noting their differences and similarities, and determine which one of them is the most successful at portraying the atmosphere desired by Anne Rice when she initially wrote the book.
In order to determine whether the book or the movie did a better job of capturing Rice's perspective on vampires, it is important to look at the approach that Rice took in the story. "In Interview with [the] Vampire, Anne Rice had a tough point-of-view choice to make. She wanted to tell the story of the intense emotional longings of a moral being after two hundred years as a vampire" (Smith, N.p.). However, in addition to sharing the vampire's personal perspective, she also wanted to reframe the vampire mythology. "Rice also wanted the reader to feel the seductive pull of the vampire, to see him as The Other, someone who is different from the 'normal' people in society, a tragic outcast, inhuman and beautiful" (Smith, N.p.). This helps explain her choice of a third person narrator in the novel, even though the novel is essentially Louis' autobiography. Movies are generally told through an omniscient third person perspective, but the differences between an omniscient narrator and a third-person narrator can be very significant and those differences come out in the movie.
In fact, his third person perspective may be one of the most critical differences between the book and the movie. In the book, the reporter Daniel Molloy, repeatedly gives insight into his thoughts about the vampire, Louis de Pointe du Lac. He is the one who describes Louis' physical beauty and magnetic allure, so that the reader sees Louis through Daniel's eyes. Whether Louis is actually physically beautiful or not is, essentially, unimportant; what is important is that Daniel perceives him to be beautiful and alluring but also alien. Within the first few paragraphs of the book, Louis turns on a light and reveals himself to Daniel, and he is "utterly white and smooth, as if he were sculpted from bleached bone, and his face was seemingly inanimate as a statue, except for two brilliant green eyes that looked down at the boy intently like...
Daniel continues to examine Louis and describes details about his physical beauty, which recur throughout the novel. The description he gives makes Louis appear to be a preternatural beauty, who, in darkness or shadows has no problem passing as human, but who is clearly not human if viewed in full light.
The movie is unable to capture the otherworldly beauty that Rice describes in her books. The characters chosen to play the vampires were, undoubtedly, among the most attractive people in Hollywood at the time. Moreover, the costume department did a fantastic job with selecting rich period clothing and providing makeup, contacts, and hair styling that would reflect the period. However, the fact is that the familiar actors, who had been seen looking equally, if not more, attractive in other films, did not possess a preternatural quality. Their skin, while pale, did not look like bleached bone, and their features, in repose, did not look like inanimate statues. It may have been beyond the special effects capabilities of the time period, but the film vampires did not capture the physical otherworldliness of the vampires in the novel. Furthermore, they did not match the physical descriptions of the vampires in the novel, either. For example, in the novel, Louis is described as having black hair (Rice, Kindle). In the movie, his hair is a medium shade of brown (Interview with the Vampire, Jordan). This may seem like an insignificant detail, but the novel conveys a description of Louis that is like, a study in contrasts; bone white skin, bright green eyes, and black hair, which is not capture in the movie.
There are also some plot differences between the book and the movie that seem to be calculated to make Louis more empathetic than his character was in the book. In the novel, Louis is in mourning when Lestat approaches him because of the death of his brother (Rice, Kindle). The fact that it was his brother who died was significant. Louis was very young at the time of his death and transformation; far younger than the actor selected to play him in the film. In fact, though Lestat's story is only told, partially, in the novel, subsequent novels reveal that Lestat was also a very young man at the time of his transformation. The fact that his brother's death marked the most significant loss in a young Louis's life tells something about him, and, in the novel, highlights an immaturity that leads him to behave in a morosely depressed fashion that seems to flame the interest that Lestat has in him. The movie chooses to explain Louis's significant depression as the result of him losing his wife and child (Interview with the Vampire, Jordan). The reason for this appears to be to make Louis appear more sympathetic, and, perhaps, to explain his participation in the transformation of a child to a vampire later in the movie.
Another significant difference between the movie and the book focuses on the vampire child, Claudia. In both the book and the movie, Louis has a very difficult time with the idea of feeding off of human beings and attempts to sustain himself on the blood of animals, particularly rats. However, leaving Lestat for an evening, he goes hunting and finds a sick child by the lifeless body of her mother. He feeds off of the child, whom Lestat transforms into a vampire. In the novel, it is critical to realize that the child is extremely young; she is described as being around the age of four or five (Rice, Kindle). Moreover, her diminutive physical size comes up repeatedly in the book, as she needs physical assistance to do basic daily things (Rice, Kindle). The movie does not represent Claudia as being a preschooler. Her age is not defined in the movie, but she was portrayed by a 12-year-old actress and was clearly meant to be a much older child than the one in the book. This may have been to avoid some of the pedophilic -overtones of the novel, which alternately described Louis as feeling fatherly towards Claudia and then interspersed that with details about Claudia's adult longings despite being trapped in the body of a preschooler.
The decision to change Claudia's age in the movie was a significant one that changed the entire tone of the message. Interestingly enough, it contrasted with another change in the movie, which was to have Louis mourning the death of his daughter. According to Anne Neville, a fan of both the book and the movie, if the movie had retained Louis's most significant loss as a human as the loss of his younger brother, then it would have made sense for him to grow attached to and protective of a young teenage child (Neville). However, by…
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