Interview with the Vampire: Abuse and Coercion

TRIGGER WARNING: Discussions of domestic abuse.

Interview with a Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (try saying that quickly), received a lukewarm reception upon its release in 1994. The gothic sets, period costumes, and ghoulish makeup may fool viewer’s into believing the film is a typical, gothic-horror thriller, and it’s more literal implications can be smothered behind the beauty of the design. However, this a story of domestic abuse, told from the perspective of the survivor. A man coerced into a relationship, victimised for years, before finding the inner strength to to move on from their trauma and avoid the trappings of abuse in the future.

When we first meet Louis, he is a broken man. Suffering from the death of his wife and child, Louis gives into vice, viewing death as a relief from his current existence. It is in this despair that Lestat (the abuser) first recognises Louis as something he can make his own, and mould in his image. While never explicit or directly referenced, the companionship between Louis and Lestat is undoubtedly homoerotic in nature. Their dialogue refers to them as a couple, Lestat refers to them as ‘parents’ later in the film, and if you still don’t believe me:

So, they’re in a relationship and should be considered as such. If you want to believe they’re just two really close dudes who happen to live together, and adopt a daughter together because they’re just such good mates…. ok.

Abusers often target people they see as vulnerable. It is notable that the first time Lestat bites Louis, it’s presented romantically with Lestat as Louis’s saviour. Lestat saves Louis from a mugger, before lifting him in his arms into the sky, the score swelling as Louis gazes at the sky, his face relaxed in ecstasy. This fits into the theme of domestic abuse, as victims are often lulled into a false sense of security by the perpetrators. The second bite, where Lestat turns Louis into a vampire, is filmed far differently. The mise-en-scene is dark and gritty in comparison to the warm lighting of their first encounter. When Louis gives Lestat consent, the eroticism of the previous scene is gone. Lestat, no longer needing to win over Louis with promises of a better life, changes. Rather than lift Louis into the air, Lestat strikes Louis and forcibly pins him to the ground, Louis yelling in pain as opposed to pleasure. The visual symbolism for what is happening is obvious. Abuse done under the guise of previously attained consent is something some victims will sadly be aware of as a justification by perpetrators for their behaviour.

As the film continues, the symptoms of coercion and abuse are magnified. At first, Louis describes his rejuvenation and newfound strength following his turning, and the start of his journey with Lestat. This is relatable to many who experience feelings of elation when beginning a new relationship. However, Lestat’s view of who Louis should be starts to erase his identity. When Lestat imposes his lifestyle of killing innocents onto Louis, Louis resists, yet doesn’t have the internal conviction to leave the relationship. Later, when he gives into Lestat’s berating and bites a young woman, Louis sets fire to his home in a fit of loathing, for both Lestat and himself. Louis collapses in the fire, accepting death, before Lestat returns to drag him out of the flames. It is clear that Louis would rather destroy himself than leave Lestat.

The conflict between theme comes to a head in the film’s most harrowing scene. In a hotel room, Lestat mutilates two prostitutes while Louis stands on the balcony, back turned to the crime as he tries to focus the city skyline. It’s clear he has become numb to his partner’s abhorrent actions, and allows them to happen, even if without his partaking. When Lestat tortures one of the prostitutes, and encourages Louis to finish her, Louis questions why he does such callous acts. Lestat replies “because I enjoy it”, before stating “do not doubt, you are a killer, Louis”. Lestat then gives an ultimatum, if Louis cannot kill her, he should turn her into one of them. Louis’ adamant refusal is very revealing – he deems being turned into a vampire, as what Lestat has did to him, as a fate worse than death. In the context of the film being an allegory for domestic abuse, Louis is aware of his mistreatment by his partner.

It is notable that Lestat refers to his turning of Louis into a vampire as a ‘dark gift’, on multiple occasions. Through the metaphor of Lestat’s turning actual being his consolidation of dominance over Louis, it is a key indicator of psychological abuse. Often abusers manipulate their victims into believing that the abuser’s attention and mistreatment is for their own good. For instance, when Louis first lashes out at Lestat for pushing him to kill humans, Lestat mocks him, and states “remember, life without me would be even more unbearable”.

It is only with the intervention by an external force, their adopted daughter, Claudia, that Louis is able to break free of his abuser’s control. Claudia recognises Lestat’s domineering behaviour and seemingly kills him in order to gain independence for both herself and Louis. Lestat survives however, and returns to murder Claudia, his body and looks rotted and deformed from being thrown in a swamp. It is in this scene that Louis finally acts against his abuser, and Lestat’s awful appearance represents Louis seeing his partner for his true self, a monstrous dominator. Louis’ use of fire throughout the film represents his growth away from Lestat. In the first instance, Louis burned down his surroundings, and ultimately himself gave himself to the fire as a futile act of defiance against his misery. Here instead, he has now fully understood the root cause of his suffering. He sets Lestat, his abuser, alight. The trigger for this being the protection of his daughter demonstrates that Louis now has a support system, and responsibilities, aside from his relationship, a key help for a victim distancing themselves from an abusive partnership.

The remainder of the film demonstrates Louis’ growth and unwillingness to yet again become a victim of abuse, in the face of vampires with similar motivations as Lestat. For instance, the character of Armand (Antonio Banderas) allows Claudia to be killed, in part to make Louis more vulnerable to his seduction, but also to have sole control over his prospective partner. He then offers companionship to Louis, who refuses, being able to recognise the symptoms of abuse. Following this, Louis visits a decaying, weakened Lestat, who asks Louis to become his partner again. Louis, again, says no.

Ultimately, Louis’ intention in giving the interview is clear, he wants to prevent others from embarking on his path, choosing a life that while exciting and fulfilling on the surface, leads to the erosion of one’s identity, and a dependency that can take great strength to break free from. Being turned into a vampire is largely used as a metaphor for entering an abusive relationship. As a result, at the film’s conclusion it is easy to understand Louis’ disappointment when his interviewer asks to become a vampire, “I’ve failed, haven’t I?”.

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