Friday, January 15, 2010

Movie Analysis :: Daybreakers

***Remember, any and all analyses will more than likely have SPOILERS

Daybreakers opens with a young girl writing a letter in her bedroom. When she finishes, she walks outside and sits to watch the sunrise. As the sun comes up, she bursts into flames, and the credits role. It turns out he girl hasn't aged in 10 years and she is perpetually stuck as an adolescent.

The film is about vampires, and in a twist on the old vampire-runs-from-human tale, this story has the vampires running the world while the humans are being hunted. It's a novel concept and one that makes for an entertaining film.

The plot revolves around Edward (Ethan Hawke), one of the vampires tasked with finding a blood substitute for the survival of the vampire "race". It seem that the vampires have almost exhausted their supplies of human blood, and instead of trying to re-supply humans, they've decided to create a new supply by chemical means. Leading the research for a substitute is a large pharmaceutical company called "Bromley Marks". This company is not only looking for a blood substitute, but they also are the leading supplier of real human blood. They farm humans by locking them in "blood milking" machines and are kept in a catatonic state while their blood is processed for the vampire population.

At its most simple level, Daybreakers is about supply and demand, consumers vs. supply. Of course the vampires are the consumers and the humans the commodity. The vampire society mimics our own, in that they have some of the same foibles that we do. They have starving homeless who beg for blood. They have delinquent children (though they are not really "children" as we think of them). And they have a gentrified society that wants no part of the problems that surround them.

And it doesn't stop there. It seems that if the vampires don't get ample supplies of human blood, they begin to degenerate into vile bat-like creatures. These creatures have pointed ears, they begin to grow wings, and their faces deform so that they barely look human. If the human blood supply were to ever run out, it would mean the end of the vampire "race". They lare immortal with a plentiful supply, but they become less than human with none.

What happens if any society consumes too much, though? What if people consume and consume without any concern for future supply? Eventually, they will run out. Like our own use of fossil fuels, if we give no thought to the future, we will see a dwindling supply and we become less than a modern society. For vampires in the film, their blood supply allows them to live forever without incident. For our own society, if we run through our fossil fuels, we revert back to a more primitive society. We would no longer have cars, computers, or any of the conveniences that make our life easier. Like the vampires, we would become less than what we believe a modern human is, and we would become unrecognizable to our former selves.

It is no surprise, either, that the film makes the evil corporation a pharmaceutical company. We tend to see large corporations as immoral entities, truly the men behind the curtain deciding what is best for the society at large. The pharmaceutical company men sit at a board room discussing what is bets for the population, almost like a shadow government who pulls the strings of those "in charge". They even have a nazi-like military man sitting at the table. It is not truly revealed what his role in the company is, but there is no doubt what he symbolizes.

There are parallels all through the film to the Holocaust aside from the nazi at the table. There is a military force that hunts down humans for their blood and to resupply fresh humans to the blood farm. One is reminded of the opening scene of Inglorious Basterds, where the evil Hans Landa, an SS Jew hunter, is tasked with chasing down those in hiding. The vampires have even innovated daytime technology that allows them to hunt in the day as well as the night. Like the nazis, they create a systematic method for hunting down and processing those they capture. They create new technologies that allow them to achieve their aims with disgusting efficiency.

The vampires also experiment on their own. In a brutal scene, Edward injects a volunteer with a test version of the blood substitute. It seems to work at first, but eventually the volunteer explodes covering everything in gore. The vampire society seems to have no morality even about killing their own kinds. They are completely corrupt, and it is all under the banner of the pharmaceutical company.

The vampires seem to have no choice but to consume. We are never told the rules they have to live by, like if they can be cured by killing the vampire that created them. There is no easy cure. And even if there was, most of the vampires are content to be immortal. They have no desire to give up their everlasting existence for a return to being human. When Edward dares suggest that they work on the cure for vampirism instead of a substitute for blood, no one even takes him seriously. Like real pharmaceutical companies, they are less interested in the cure than in supplying the populace with the drug. After all, if there was a cure, why would the company even be needed?

The only ones that are interested in a cure are a band of humans who have one amongst them who was cured. His nickname is Elvis (Willem DaFoe), and he was once a vampire, but after facing a limited accidental exposure to the sun he was cured of his vampirism.

It serves to remember the opening of the film at this point. Not all vampires are happy in their life. Like some people feel chained to their office desks, some vampires dislike the vampire life. Children who never age, people not able to live in the sun. It is unnatural. We have all had the experience of leaving an office on a sunny day. The feel of the sun on our face is like freedom, and some vampires long for this.

The film uses lighting to highlight the differences between the two groups. The vampires exist in a constant blue light, bathed in a somewhat depressing fluorescent-like glow. They live in posh apartments and homes near cities that are filled with technology and are brimming with style.

The humans seem to live in more incandescent light. It is a yellowish, sun-like light that we are most familiar with. They hide in a vineyard, an ancient symbol of life, and live without technology. Their existence is simple and communal. They have abandoned all possessions in order to concentrate on the future of humanity.

What can we take from these differences? Are the filmmakers trying to tell us that there are those of us who are consumers, and we are the bad guys? What do the humans in the movie represent? Are they the "hippies" of the world? Are these the only right people?

The message seems to be that consumption leads to corruption. As long as there is money to be made, people will consume themselves to their very end without concern for the future. The only hope, according to the film, is those that don't live this life and force the rest of us to live their way, much like the consumers force the rest into their way of life.

And the humans literally force the vampires to change. Elvis becomes an interesting character in that, not only is he cured, but his blood can be a source of cure for the vampires. If vampires bite Elvis, his blood cures them. This leads to a monstrous climax in which a group of vampires descend on a cured person, tear the person up for his blood, and then they themselves are cured. But just as they realize that they have been saved, they too are pounced upon and killed. It is a vicious cure. The only way to save humanity is to sacrificed those that are cured but cannot get way from the vampires. They will quickly become a snack, and start the cure-death cycle over again.

It is a dark ending, and suggests that there is no middle ground for any of us to stand upon. The battle between the consumers of the world and those who choose to opt out, cannot be won. The nazis tried to eliminate entire races and ethnicities as they spread their terror across Europe. They paid with a prolonged war that left millions more dead than the nazis themselves eliminated in the concentration camps. And where are the nazis now? There is no serious nazi contingent left in the world.

So what does this mean for us? Do the filmmakers intend to suggest that there is no middle ground between the conservationists and those who ignore conservation? Do they further imply that there could come a time when we will destroy ourselves even if a cure for our planet's ills are found? Perhaps. But I think their message is that people must become converts now before we reach a point of no return. Like the vampires of the film, if everyone would decide to give up their easy living the world could be saved before it is too late.

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