After two quite light films, Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction is a hard turn downwards into the circles of hell. Kathleen is studying for a doctorate in philosophy in a grungy, black-and-white New York, where the streets are lined with hustlers and junkies. She is disillusioned with academia, obsessing over the horrors of German and American war atrocities, but unsure what to do about it. One night she is pulled into an alley and bitten by Casanova, a female vampire, who mocks her for not putting up more of a fight. As she slowly transforms into a vampire herself, her contempt for humanity grows, her appetite for human blood increases, and she develops a more practical and horrific philosophy to exist by.
This is a film thick with social commentary, philosophy texts and existential ideas. The first images we see are piles of dead bodies from the Holocaust and Vietnam, and a class of students watching on a projector screen. For Kathleen’s friend Jean, it’s all academic—she is able to eat her sandwich while reading textbooks on the subject—but Kathleen feels the violence on a deeper level. She hates that American politicians look for scapegoats so justice can be seen to be done and the country can move on. Most people want to forget about it. The collective guilt is unbearable, so it is repressed, and the source of the violence remains seeded beneath the surface. The vampires haunting New York talk about evil and sin, but they are also the violent shadow of the collective unconscious.
The final feast, where the newly-graduated Kathleen eats her professors, must have influenced the opening of Blade, where the innocent party-goers are really food. Ferrara would probably say nobody is innocent, and that most of us are, in Casanova’s words, collaborators. Vampires and nihilism go hand in hand, and addiction is can lead to self-destruction, but perhaps there are ways to better harness our human appetites for violence. Ferrara is asking us to do something about it.