Monday, January 01, 2007

The Addiction – review


Director: Abel Ferrara

Release date: 1995

Contains spoilers

The addiction is very much an art film, shot in black and white with oft times purposefully shaky camera work and much spouting of philosophical theory. It certainly will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but what I find astounding about the movie is, firstly, that there are so many sub-texts to the film. The film, first and foremost is an exploration of substance abuse, as well as being a film which examines the nature of evil, the violence of the clash of wills, sin and redemption and the overthrow of the old guard of academia with a new generation. It is also fascinating in what it does with the vampire symbolism, many of the old traditional images appear and yet they are used in ways which nod to the traditional vampire film but the film does not rely on (all of) them.

The film begins in a lecture, we see slides of Vietnam. This is a running theme through the film, either still or moving images of both Vietnam and the holocaust. In the lecture are Kathleen Conklin (Lili Taylor) and her friend Jean (Edie Falco) both philosophy students. They leave the lecture and Lili makes her own way home. As she waits to cross a road a woman, played by Annabella Sciorra and unnamed in the film but called Casanova in the credits, comes by her and then pulls her violently into an alley.

Casanova is a vampire, but the entire attack is strange and yet genre familiar. She tells Kathleen to tell her to go away. Kathleen attackedThis is a constant in the film, the vampires give the victim a chance. It is somewhat like Lestat in Interview with the Vampire giving the choice he never had, but it is more demanding. Rather than simply being offered a choice the victim must forthrightly tell the vampire to go away. Kathleen pleads and it is not enough. Casanova bites her and it is a strangely compelling scene. The bite seems gentle, at first, more of a kiss. Kathleen does not react, seeming almost in shock an yet the bite, from this vampire without fangs, is anything but gentle.

After the feed Casanova accuses Kathleen of being a collaborator, in her mind it is obviously Kathleen’s fault that the vampire managed to get her fix and then tells her that after the attackif she wants to know what happens next then she’ll have to wait and see. Kathleen ends up going to hospital and then home. I’ve mentioned, and you will also see from the screenshots, that the film is black and white. This might disappoint gore-hounds but it takes nothing away from, in fact may even add to, the violence inherent in the film. The bandaged wound looks nasty. Kathleen sleeps, but her sleep is disturbed and full of dreams of Casanova.

The next day she is in college but feels ill and runs to the toilet, where she begins to vomit blood. shooting up bloodShe ends up in hospital again but nothing can be found wrong with her, except anaemia. They want to keep her in for a few days but, in the night she leaves the hospital. Her friend has noticed that she does not appear well, she is distracted, often staring into space and plays with her food rather than eats it. Things come to a head when she leaves the house and uses a syringe to take blood from a homeless man. She takes the blood home and shoots it up.

From that moment she is on a spiral. She wears dark glasses during the day. She meets her Professor (Paul Calderon) for dinner and to discuss her thesis but is cold and distant. They do end up in her flat, where they kiss and then she tells him she has something for him. in and outWhilst she is out of the room he notices that drapes have been placed across all the mirrors. Later in the film it is revealed that she has done this because she cannot bear to look at her own face – a nice twist on the mirror aspect of the genre. She enters the room with drug paraphernalia and convinces her Professor to get high. We then see him passed out, Kathleen is taking money from his wallet and his arm has two punctures, one marked in, the other out. It is clear that she has fed.

Her next attack sees her descend into a more violent form of feeding. She sparks up a conversation with an anthropology student (Kathryn Erbe) and invites her home. Kathleen mocks her victimWe see images of the holocaust on TV and Kathleen is watching it, she has blood on her mouth. She goes to the bathroom and looks at the girl who is distraught and staunching a wound in her neck. Kathleen asks why she didn’t tell her to go and the girl admits she was frightened that she would hurt her. When she asks if she will get sick, Kathleen replies no more than she already was. She tells the girl it was her decision.

another victimThe next attack is on a member of street gang, who believes he is the recipient of a booty call. This time she overpowers her victim, almost breaking his wrists, before she descends upon him. The viciousness of the attack is more overwhelming as they are in the street.

In an interim moment flowers are delivered to her and we see Kathleen on the floor, more interested in the soil than the flowers. It seems like a nod to the genre staple of native or unhallowed earth. The flowers were from Jean and Kathleen intercepts her. She seems off with her friend and then takes her to the girls’ room. She actually rips out one off her teeth and tells Jean that she is rotting from the inside but cannot die. She then attacks her friend, having given her the same out and telling her to look sin in the face.

Kathleen really has patterned the junky. She can only think about the next fix and her addiction has caused her to betray her lover (the Professor) and her friend, it has hurt strangers and caused her to steal and caused her college work to suffer. Her next victim, however, proves to be a mistake.

Christopher Walken as PeinaShe sees a man, we later discover to be called Peina (Christopher Walken), who walks the street talking to himself. She approaches him and it is clear that he recognises her for what she is as he turns the ‘tell me to leave’ rule onto her before she can articulate it. He takes her to his home. He too is a vampire, who has been clean for forty years. We discover that he, unlike Kathleen, can eat normal food, sleep, work and defecate. He asks an interesting question, rather than who have you attacked he asks who is inside you, as though the vampirism is an assimilation of others. This fits very much into what Kathleen feels about philosophy; that a philosopher parasitically sucks the ideas from those who have gone before. He asks her if she has taken a child yet, the first being difficult then they are just like any other.

Peina is not a good father figure symbol, however. He intends Kathleen to hunger whilst he drinks of her, taking in any goodness she has left. He sees himself very much beyond good and evil. At one point Kathleen gets a cutthroat razor and slashes her own wrist. He mocks her telling her that what is already dead cannot die and then points out that it wasn’t really a suicide bid, she wanted to see if he had left anything she could feed on. Whilst he is out she escapes. Stumbling down the road she is found by a kindly passer-by, whom she immediately attacks. Yet she can now write her thesis, which she does and passes. She invites the faculty to an after graduation reception.

Outside the reception a priest (Michael Imperioli) gives out leaflets. She asks him to attend but he refuses. In a side room she looks at the leaflet “Pray the way of the cross” and becomes enraged, shouting and ripping at her own clothes. This seemed like a nod to the vampire and cross reaction. In the reception, as well as the faculty (the old guard of academia), are all her victims and Casanova. Jean looks for her and she is in her underwear and orders Jean to find a woman her size. Vampires attackThe woman is killed for her clothes. She enters the reception and tells the faculty that she wishes to demonstrate what she has learnt. The vampires attack. This answers the question, which occurred to me when first watching this, why did no one report her to the police? They were all turned, filled with her addiction and, given that she orders them around, it appears that she owns them (having taken them inside her) – other than Casanova that is.

Kathleen overdosedThe scene is violent and, though the gore is lost in the black and white, quite disturbing. Kathleen drinks more than her fill and, when all the faculty are dead, she stumbles onto the street, drenched in blood. She collapses and is driven to hospital. This seemed very much an overdose scene.

In her hospital room, she asks a nurse to open the blinds and seems to react when the sunlight touches her but Casanova closes the blinds and tells her it will not be that easy. She does give Kathleen the key, however, when she tells her that we are not evil because of the evil we do but we do evil because we are inherently evil. Her next visitor is a priest and she asks for confession and seems, afterwards, at peace. The last thing we see is Kathleen’s grave but it is Kathleen herself who places a flower upon it.

The film can be slow paced, but it is packed with so many layers that I can watch it over and over again. The philosophy aspects might come across as pretentious (and the dialogue is philosophy heavy with quotes from many of the classic philosphers) but fit well with the character of Kathleen and what Ferrara was trying to do with the film. The violence is startling when it happens, each piece being more violent than the last in a variety of ways, both physically and, due to whom she attacks, psychologically.

Lili Taylor as KathleenTaylor is great as Kathleen, playing the role with a detachment that the role demands and yet throwing in passion and pain when needed. Star of the film, although his role is little more than a cameo, is Walken who is superb. The soundtrack works really well, juxtaposing classical music with hip hop.

This film will be far from many people’s cup of tea, I understand that. It is also true that the vampires do not conform to genre traditions, though those traditions are acknowledged. However, if you enjoy it, as I do, it is a startling piece of cinema. 8 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Ross Jacob Frotch said...

I need to see this movie. I have such an urge, and yet I'm only of its existence as a Region 2 UK DVD, and other countries, unplayable and unsellable in the US. Where did you find it?

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Ross, I bought it on DVD - given that I am UK based it is available and actually rather cheap.

I am aware that the UK and Spanish additions are available on Amazon US (as well as a VHS version).

Obviously there are two problems with that for you. 1 they will be in PAL format - I don't know about US NTSC TVs but certainly my PAL TV and PAL DVD players will happily play NTSC.

Second problem is region code. Obviously you will be region 1, however a good number of players are able to be cracked to multi-region and, if you can watch films on your PC, if you ase the VLC media player it doea not region code check.

best of luck with getting to see the film.

Tom Clark said...

Really happy to see this covered on here, I knew it would be thought :) Lili Taylor is amazing in this. Especially loved the scene where she muses on the topic of guilt to Edie Falco. I'm amazed this still isn't offically avaible on DVD in America. This would be prime for a release from a company like Criterion.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Tom, I am still astounded that this isn't available in the US - you're right in saying that this would be right up Criterion's street

LoBo said...

I just saw this film. Yes, it was similar to "Habit", but i don't think it was as good. The fact that this was filmed in black and white, was a good choice. I think it suited the film.

I liked seeing Annabella Sciorra who played the Vampire who bit the main character. I did find her sexy

So, you saw it on the UK DVD?
Too bad if you did, it is cropped to the 1.33:1 format. The original aspect ratio is 1.85:1. I saw it my German DVD which is the only DVD which is in Anamorphic 1.85:1., according to to this site:

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Lobo glad you got to see it.

If you looked at my scores, you will see I agree with you - I scored habit higher than this.

I appreciate the presentation might not be perfect in the UK DVD release but I don't believe that would have changed my score of the film as the content far out-weighs the ratio

LoBo said...


It's nice we agreed Habit it's better. I felt this film lacked something special that made "Habit" so good to me. I can't put my finger on it.

But, if you want to see it in higher quality and it's intended aspect ratio, you can always import the German DVD.

LoBo said...

Do you have any recommendations to similar films like this and "Habit"?

I already have "Nadja" and "Midnight Son" which i have heard is similar, but i haven't watched them yet.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Lobo, yes both of those have a similar Vibe. I'll suggest the following but they are not all quiet the same vibe and certainly some are of a much lower quality.

Have a read of the reviews though and see if any sound like you'd want to give them a go.

Blood & Donuts
Vampire's kiss (more a New York connection)
I Pass for Human
A Nocturne

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Sorry the Hemo link above doesn't work. This should be fine.