Daybreakers (Spierig & Spierig, Lionsgate, 2010) isn’t the first movie about “vegetarian” vampires in recent years, but it is the one that’s closest one to a muddled Marxist allegory, unless one wants to reads it as an allegory for “curing” gay people of their sexuality.
Closer to True Blood (HBO, 2008-09) than to New Moon (Summit, 2008-09,) Daybreakers features vampires of various social classes, a good vampire who abstains from human blood, vampire self-immolation at sunrise, and various a range of industries catering to vampire needs such as synthetic blood and daylight-safe cars. In Daybreakers, the cars product-place Chrysler’s latest venture into end times luxury over production, the 300 C.
The genre has only recently started imaging vampires of different economic classes. As recently as Underworld (Lakeview, 2003-09,), vampires were lone survivors of an atavistic aristocracy. True Blood imagines vampires as members of different economic classes in a mixed society, but Daybreakers imagines all of a class society made up of vampires. Humans aren’t members of vampire society, they are its primary resource. The proliferation of supernatural creatures on True Blood (shape shifters, maenads, and apparently a warewolf coming in 2010) turns it into a story about the good people of Bon Temps’ struggle to experiment with more accepting behaviors without lapsing into a perpetual empty hedonism. In True Blood, Godric commits suicide at the end of a narrative about human-vampire relations, but Daybreakers starts with the self-immolation of a tween vampire girl who seems to kill herself because vampire society is unbearable.
In Daybreakers, the vampiress’ demand for blood outstrips their ability to produce it, leading to a liquid crisis that affects poor vampires first, then threatens to bring on vampire society’s 1989. The muddledness of the allegory can be felt in the use of blood (capital) to imagine a crisis of financial liquidity all the more confusing because blood happens to be a liquid. The vampires clearly figure contemporary capitalist society as such and the humans play the role of capital. A newscaster in the film announces that “investors are removing their human stock from the blood bank” to make their crisis sound more like ours. To make the severity of the situation even clearer, vampire extras wear depression-era hats in a blood riot. The generalized feeling of crisis is enhanced by dressing the leaders of the vampire shock troops in Nazi-like uniforms, and in a train station scene, troops liquidate vampires in costumes from Schindler’s List® (Universal, 1993) who have begun to mutate for lack of blood. Let a thousand sub-Zizekian flowers of interpretation bloom.
Imagining contemporary society as a vampire society allows Daybreakers to contract into a conflict between a standing vampire army that uses Uncle Sam’s picture in recruitment ads and a mixed band of surviving humans and dissident vampires. In this asymmetrical war, the insurgency doesn’t resemble the guerillas of Latin America’s past so much as today’s “terrorists.” In other words, Daybreaker’s payoff comes with the image of the US armed forces as vampire soldiers: the invitation is to cheer for a group who operate like suicide bombers. Despite the fact that the cured vampires don’t die when bitten, when the rebels discover that the blood of vampires who have been turned back into humans kills uncured ones, the stagings shift to familiar scenes of terror, including the classic explosive body bound and gagged in an elevator.
The cure consists in exposure to sunlight in a modified wine fermentation tank. The rebel band makes the steam-punk prototype during a sojourn in a vineyard. The tank’s similarity to a monster tanning bed reminds me of The Situation’s motto “GTL” and makes me wish that the kids from Jersey Shore (MTV, 2010) were part of the resistance.
Daybreakers’ origin in industrial capitalist production burdens it with a pitch meeting mashup concept: Gattaca (Columbia, 1997) meets Children Of Men (Universal, 2006) but with the vampires from True Blood. In general, the audio from development meetings plays just beneath the sound track. I also heard the negotiations with the lead actors and, between the Reality Bites (Universal, 1994) jokes, someone appeals to their pseudo-radical chic by saying “It’s political, we’re getting the audience to see the terrorist’s point of view, like in V For Vendetta” (Warner, 2005). The limits of the allegory are identical to the limits of such meetings. The best the narrative can do is offer individual action sacrifice and a muscle car ride into the sunrise as a response to the crisis of capital. A spent liberal humanism dominates both the film and its production process.
Then there is the matter of Willem Dafoe and Ethan Hawk’s performances. Dafoe, in particular, appears to be rehearsing an avant-garde technique where line are fed to the performer via an ear piece while imitating Kris Kristofferson in the Blade (New Line, 1998-200) movies. It played as a more mannered version of the ear piece acting between Andy Garcia and Sophia Coppola in The Godfather 3 (Paramount, 1990.) I enjoyed the two leads to the extent that I could imagine their acting as a deliberate attempt to make the film hard to sell.
Daybreakers doesn’t look like much, other than perhaps Max Headroom (ABC, 1997). The film is full of cold colors in soft focus, alienating techno-noir architecture, and long shots that could could from Blackhawk Down (Sony, 2001) or any other end-of-the- empire opera.
Despite it’s confusion and general stupidity, I got more out of Daybreakers than either Avatar® (Twentieth Century Fox, 2009) or The Hurt Locker® (Bigelow, 2008).