[TW: This article discusses the general topic of sexual assault and how it is portrayed in Byzantium.]
The 2010s have given us many sacred moments and movements in pop culture; most notably a worldwide frenzy for vampires and ghoulish nocturnal creatures like that of the iconic dusk series. And during this decade of wild music, hilarious celebrity moments, and the rise of subculture fandoms for what sounded like all types of content, playwright and author, Moria Buffini, managed to create a masterpiece with the 2012 film, Byzantium. Based on his 2008 play, A vampire story, Byzantium is narrated by Eleanor Webb (Saoirse Ronan) as she constantly writes and revisits her 18th century world while living in the present.
Eleanor tells about her young mother, Clara Webb (Gemma Arterton), poignant story of slavery and prostitution at the hands of a Royal Navy officer, Captain Ruthven (Jonny lee miller), accompanied by his friend from the navy, Captain Darvell (Sam riley), who disapproves of the immoral and detestable behavior of his “friend”. Ultimately, raped and forced into prostitution at a young age, Clara endured a damaging life of heinous abuse, with Eleanor following an assault. In her anguish, she entrusted her daughter to an orphanage. Over the years she withered painfully from tuberculosis and a risky life as a sex worker, Clara was finally given some kind of gift, that of rebirth.
Following an unexpected visit from a presumed dead Darvell who searches for Ruthven to recover the goods that have been stolen from her, Clara follows her obscure example in explaining her remarkable youth preserved after so many years. A map that leads to an island of stone where you have to sacrifice and be fearless grabs Clara’s ears and as Darvell leaves, Clara shoots Ruthven, steals her “gift” and runs away on the Isle. Here she dies and wakes up as a vampire, healthy and with new eyes for the world. Unbeknownst to her, the gift she took was intended only for men, which Darvell explains because he is part of an ancient scholarly fraternity, The Pointed Nails of Justice.
Meanwhile, a vengeful Captain Ruthven searches for a now teenage Eleanor as a way to get revenge on Clara. He rapes his own daughter, leaving her barely alive. Clara arrives too late on the scene, murdering her longtime oppressor. Desperate, to hell with the codes of the brotherhood, Clara takes Eleanor to the island and turns her daughter into a vampire in order to save her. Women retreated into the way of life of traveling foreigners, wandering the nights, fleeing the brotherhood for more than two centuries. And this is where Eleanor’s story really begin.
Juxtaposed with stereotypical representations of classic and contemporary vampires, Clara and Eleanor as a conflicting mother-daughter duo exemplify the potential of women to be dynamic characters, outside of love and relationships. Most vampire tales revolve around a male vampire sending his lover into damnation by his side. Often times, these archetypes showcase women through a misogynistic gaze, as objects used for male pleasure, or as obedient servants to their new Dark Lord. What Moria Buffini does is take the poetism of the Gothic era vampire lore and place women in trauma and striving for freedom as opposed to ordinary love.
Buffini and director, Neil Jordan, then involve lesser-known versions of the classic tale of Dracula with references to historical figures such as 15th century Count Vlad “the Impaler”, a notorious Turkish usurper who vigorously claimed areas throughout Wallachia and punished his enemies or violators to strengthen his government. Hence, his reputation for impaling victims has earned him his name. Another notable historical figure with obvious similarities to Clara draws inspiration from the equally frightening Elizabeth Bathory of the late 1500s, early 1600s. Known today as one of the most prolific serial killers in the world. tale with over 600 victims, Bathory was a noblewoman known for her obsession with blood, heinously murdering young maids for their blood which she said helped maintain a youthful glow and firm skin. , and ultimate beauty. Clara internalizes an obsession with control and power, which are her only motivations to steal Captain Ruthven’s luck at eternal life.
Bathory’s story takes place in his Hungarian castle in Csejte while Vlad’s story takes place in the Carpathian region of Eastern Europe. In Byzantium, a similar fictional representation of the birthplace of vampires is shown as The Healing Shrine, a huge black rocky island with little life and little agriculture. It is here that the greatest sacrifice must be made: to face a macabre death to be reborn with the gifts of the occult. Clara and Eleanor both claim freedom and the physical healing of the sanctuary, however, the burden of immortality becomes apparent as Eleanor recites her misery and the story of her mother’s trauma. She lets off steam in her writings and recounting her victims before killing them.
Buffini and Jordan craft an unorthodox vampire story that develops the notion of powerful choices. Clara makes sacrifices for her daughter, and despite being an imperfect mother, she still values Eleanor’s security in the brotherhood above all else. While the couple reside in a sleepy seaside town of a former seaside resort and jointly host the orphanage and Eleanor’s sexual trauma, they are harassed by two fellowship members. Darvell and Savella (Uri Gavriel) who have sought them out relentlessly for the past two centuries. On a scrambling night, Clara meets a broken man, Noel, who offers up his house, a dilapidated hotel called Byzantium.
Amid the connection that her new home is the site of misery and angst, Eleanor ramps up her death toll, using up the elderly population while Clara starts up a hotel prostitution business. Eleanor takes the path of memory, traumatic flashbacks and isolates her emotions even more when she meets her suitor, Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), a teenager dying of leukemia. Clara, jealous and hardened by her past, threatens Eleanor’s little slice of happiness. It is this attitude that defines their tattered relationship.
Poetically and similar to writers like Edgar Allen Poe Where Mary wollstonecraft, Eleanor thirsts to expose her heavy burden of centuries; a weight she never had to carry. Clara passed on a cycle of disarray and abuse as she revealed her life and circumstances to her child. Even as she saves her daughter’s life, she gives her an impossible choice: to face a slow and painful death with the trauma of her sexual assault and the psychological strain of realizing it was done on her own. father. Where find privilege and freedom in immortality, becoming a child of the night.
By the end of the film, it becomes clear that Clara has realized just how much her life and story has held her and her child hostage in one unforgettable story. The moment Clara decided to become a vampire, prepare for death, and return power to the hands of the weak, she stepped into her sexual prowess, challenged the gender norms of her gothic society, and began to redefine her life. , though shaped by fear of the brotherhood finding her and Eleanor. While Eleanor never really had the chance to step into her power, she seizes her opportunity when she falls in love with Frank. A piece of Clara lives within Eleanor, as she desires to heal her new lover and ultimately decides to spend her life with him.
Byzantium presents a gripping tale of injury and suffering one of a kind, but this is the ultimate type of vampire movie that truly turns lore into an ethereal masterpiece that showcases Buffini’s keen eye for a real storytelling. Female vampires can be more than henchmen or slaves of a Dark Lord. They can be emotional, cunning, kind, resourceful, and complex all at the same time. They can be just as deranged and terrifying as their ghoulish male counterparts. And Buffini and Jordan’s brilliant approach to the iconic Dracula is a refreshing tribute.
In this episode of The Witching Hour, Haleigh and Perri (also try to) carve vampire-themed pumpkins!
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