On my way to the local theater to see Priest I ambled through a neighborhood that could, without much special effects wizardry, be used as a backdrop in the next post-apocalyptic popcorn fare. So in some small way, I feel I too know the peculiar burdens of living in a place like that. For one, when the sun breaks through the rain clouds the damp air is filled with the smell of sodden garbage and when the sun sets on the ghetto all the broken stuff gets cold. I bring this up in order to convey my sympathy with the dystopian genre. I can understand the setting: rape and violence, depravity on every street, total moral bankruptcy. And you think to yourself what good can come of this? This constant contamination revealing a relentless, extinguishing void behind things. And when you survey the scene and find only indifference and it dawns on you how much sadness there must be in the world; an infinite amount, surely. Perhaps that’s maudlin but it can begin to take on a hint of the sublime when one thinks about the incomprehensible immensity of it. And speech can’t express it, is incommensurate with the truth. It’s like squeezing blood from a stone. But there is no blood, only the squeezing. Oh, that’s right. This movie was about vampires. You’ll like it if you like vampires, but also westerns, horror, martial arts, bad acting, attempting to set the land speed record on a futuristic motorcycle, high contrast cinematography, and the substitution of cliche for narrative or character. Well, that’s not quite true. You won’tÂ necessarilyÂ like it if you like any of those things separately, rather, you’ll only enjoy this movie if you like all of those things together, squeezed into one shapeless mess. I guess the trash compactor is not a good model for script writing. By the way, this was not a movie about vampires, as in personifications of an infantile and perverse sexuality-often repressed, a complicated metaphor for the desire for immortality and the existence of death, the hatred and love entwined in those things, how there is sadism in the heart of that desire and a yearning to posses and articulate it, virginity, innocence, capes, and guilt. They were, like, just monsters. Which I, for one, don’t really consider to be vampires at all. These things are important.
Paul Bettany is cloven-hearted, split-minded, conflicted between observing a bureaucratic mandate to forget his vampire exterminating ways and settle down to a quite life of shoveling garbage into an industrial sized furnace and resuming that previous life and assuming a flinty-eyed stance in the face of certain exsanguination. He does this for justice’s sake, or to express the wrath of god, or something. Also, he’s not actually a priest but a soldier. The character’s name must have been some mordant theological commentary but it flew right over my head. A few choice scenes: Bettany struggles in vain to pull his fellow priest out of a swarming nest of vampires to safety and there, in that fleeting moment pregnant with the possibility of safety, the two lock eyes and the doomed one communicates with a look one last, desperate missive: Go! You can’t save me. There are a shit load of vampires down here, son. The moment ends as the vampires break the other priest’s grasp and Bettany is left screaming his anger out at them. Another: a slow motion shot of a crucifix being knocked off a wall and shattering as it hits the ground. Another still: She said that when it came to killing vampires you were the best. It was hard to tell whether scenes like this were sincere or perfunctory but I’m not sure it matters. I wanted to share some of the plot points too but no matter how many times I tried to write them out they always seeming ridiculous. Also, I don’t want to spoil anything.
A final note. My favorite scene, I think, in movies is this one: the hero’s countenance is modified as danger finally draws fatally near and it robs him of his partner or his true love or perhaps delivers some devastating piece of news and he lets out a full-throated NOOOOOOOOOOO because he can do nothing else. Its echo fills the ever expanding space as the camera pans out to accommodate it or zooms in to the mouth as the screen fades to black. Classical dramaturgy and prosody involved a constant reworking of a few orthodox scenes and many of our worst directors have carried on that proud tradition. Usually it’s a cue to be bored, but not in this case for some reason, at least not for me. I’m not sure about the genesis of these things but they’ve slipped into real life just by sheer repetition. Although, maybe at the onset it wasn’t pure invention but mimesis. Perhaps people were more melodramatic during the golden age of the motion picture, I don’t know. The pleasure I derived from this scene didn’t overcome the nothingness of the rest of the film. Overall, fair to middling.