Monday, June 07, 2010

The Hunger

I recently saw The Hunger (1983). Admittedly, this was largely an excuse to see Catherine Deneuve.

The film was generally panned by Roger Ebert and other critics. And I understand why they dislike it.

The Hunger tries too hard to be artistic. True artistry isn’t that self-conscious. True artistry conceals its own artistry. The film also suffers from a ludicrous ending.

I could also do without the lesbian theme, or some of the language. On the other hand, I don’t expect vampires to be paragons of virtue, so in that respect, why wouldn’t they be bisexual?

The Hunger has a very spare plot and little narrative momentum. But in that regard it’s rather like the better works of David Lynch (Mulholland Drive, Twin Peaks). Not that Lynch is above criticism, by any means.

It’s not so much about telling a linear story–like a journey, with a beginning, middle, and end–as it is about exploring an idea. Lingering on a central idea, from different angles, like a still-life, or series of still lives (e.g. Monet’s lilies) rather than a trip with a well-defined route and a well-defined destination.

And in that respect the treatment suits the theme. Although vampires are immortal, they have no purpose in life. No hope. No fulfillment. No direction. They live to kill and kill to live.

Having outlived their parents and grandparents, spouses and friends, they have lived beyond their time. They don’t belong here anymore. They simply adapt. Outwardly they may blend in, but inwardly they remain rootless, restless drifters. Miriam's townhouse is chock-full of museum pieces, and she, herself, is a museum piece. Timeless, flawless, and dead.

To some extent The Hunger is a vampiric twist on the old Greek myth of Aurora and Tithonus. Miriam’s paramours live for a few centuries, but in the end the price they pay is immorality without eternal youth.

Miriam’s vaguely Egyptian ancestry, underlined by Deneuve’s iconic looks, reminds me of Nefertiti. Deneuve was about 40 when she made the film. Unlike some movie stars, she apparently forsook cosmetic surgery. So her fabled beauty is a bit worn. Still arresting, but not quite what it was in her Chanel No. 5 ads. Yet that, too, suits the world-weariness of the character.

The Hunger is a merciless and unblinking study in the fear of death and dying, as well as the curse of mere immortality–which is no true alternative to death and dying.

A memorable film. An uneven film. An artistic failure, yet more significant and satisfying, in its way, than many by-the-numbers productions which don’t suffer from its evident flaws, but also lack its flashes of greatness.

If we make allowance for the film’s deficiencies, I think The Hunger is actually one of the best films of the genre. Stylish, noirish, and despairing. What is damnation if not eternal life without the giver of life?


  1. Isn't that the film that opens with Bela Lugosi's Dead by the Bauhaus? I saw that movie over twenty years ago.

    Sometimes, I realize how cool I actually am to remember something so bizarre. Or perhaps, how uncool. Never mind. Continue.

    As to David Lynch, I still don't "get" Eraserhead, and the only part of Wild at Heart I like is the cameo by Crispen Glover. Lynch actually did a "sweet" movie a few years ago about a man riding across a few states in a wheelchair. It actually shocked me that Lynch didn't try to shock me- perhaps though he only had a minor part in the movie. It was too mild to be pure Lynch.

  2. James Swan said...

    "Isn't that the film that opens with Bela Lugosi's Dead by the Bauhaus?"


    Yes, Lynch is very hit-and-miss.

  3. "Not that Lynch is above criticism, by any means."

    Oh, yes he is.

    The only Lynch I didn't like was Dune, and I think I've seen them all. My favorites are Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire; I like his "weird" surreal stuff, where he pulls half of the story out of the air as he's filming it. That's where he's best.

    I enjoy Lynch for the atmosphere in his films; who the hell cares about 'getting' his movies when he makes it up on the spot anyway? The important part is to be absorbed into the surreal dream-like stories by the proper mixture of strange imagery and ingenious use of sound--like a real chemist (I forget which filmmaker said this).

  4. I think one of my favourite movies in the horror genre is a little known release called "The Broken". Very creepy, plays around with the viewer's expectation, very thick atmosphere. A lot of reviewers didn't like the slow pacing, but that's one of the things I liked best about it. Check it out, if you get the chance.