This week sees the release of Byzantium. This is director Neil Jordan’s second foray into the world of vampires, following 1994’s Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles. Both films feature girl vampires. Despite the age difference between the characters, there are definite parallels.
Byzantium‘s Eleanor is sixteen year old when she is turned, while Interview with the Vampire‘s Claudia is yet to hit puberty. Both of Jordan’s films emphasise the limitations of their age as immortals; the constraints of being forever young. Claudia is at first contented in her lifestyle, happy to be indulged with dolls and victims by her ‘parents’ Lestat and Louis. After thirty years as a girl vampire, however, Claudia longs to age. She begins to obsess on the adult female form, pining for a body she will never inhabit. Claudia’s body is her prison, an ageless form impeding a maturing mind.
Neil Jordan draws Eleanor with a similar predicament of restriction, although hers is less corporeal and more emotional. From the beginning of Byzantium, Eleanor paints a lonely figure; her lifestyle demanding a solitary existence. More than anything, Eleanor wishes to share her secret, something Clara forbids her her to do. With his young protagonist, Jordan accentuates the isolation of the undead amongst the living. As a girl vampire, Eleanor shares the same spaces as humans but is ultimately unable to connect because of her secret. Eleanor is at an age that she wishes to embark on relationships. Unlike Clara, she never had any chance of this before she was turned. Eleanor is stunted therefore in wanting to experience the same things as her peers but being unable to immerse herself entirely with humans.
Claudia and Eleanor are both hindered by their gender, despite the differences in setting. As a young girl in the nineteenth century, Claudia is expected to act the part. She has to maintain the appearance of a young girl in prim dresses. When she attempts to rebel against this by cutting her hair, her locks grow back just as they were. Looking at her never-changing her, Claudia’s frustration is all too clear. Even among her own kind, Claudia faces additional expectation as a girl vampire. When she hides a female corpse amongst her toys, her fathers are disgusted by her behaviour, which is sprung from a natural curiosity. Eleanor is similarly constrained by her age and gender. Although she is capable of handling herself, Clara desire to protect is clear. Clara shields Eleanor from the realities of survival, ensuring she is not tainted by some of the more unseemly ways the former makes money. Moreover, Clara and Eleanor are hunted by their own kind, simply for being female.
Jordan’s girl vampires are desirous of something just beyond their grasp. Seeming to accept the fact she will never be a woman, Claudia looks for a mother figure. Typical of the constraints of her age and perhaps gender however, Claudia is unable to sire a vampire herself. While Eleanor has an older female figure to provide guidance, she wishes for companionship of her own age. Unable to share her secret greatly diminishes the connections she is able to make.
The girl vampires in Neil Jordan’s films experience the limitations of the corporeal form and necessities of the undead existence. Loneliness and restriction loom heavy of proceedings; unfortunate consequences of becoming immortal before reaching adulthood. To a certain extent, vampirism acts as a metaphor for puberty, or specifically stunted growth, with regards to both Claudia and Eleanor. Both characters wish to enjoy the freedoms that adulthood brings, but are stuck at an age where this is impractical or impossible. These girl vampires have the mental capacity to live as adults, but are stuck in a shell that is forever young.
Byzantium is released in UK cinemas on 31st May 2013.