Tuesday, 13 January 2015
Fevre Dream II: The Emancipation Strikes Back
We watched this at the weekend, and I have (probably unnecessarily complicated) mixed feelings about it. On its own terms, it's perfectly serviceable, being fully aware of how bonkers it is on every level. I've been a sucker for spinning ludicrous fantasy/sci-fi conspiracy theories out of historical events ever since my teenage years and Dark Skies, and this film doesn't disgrace that absurdly narrowly-defined genre. Rufus Sewell glowers, Mary Elizabeth Winstead charms, Jimmi Simpson puppy-dogs, all amongst a gloriously deranged plot that swings unrepentantly between po-faced recreations of abolition movement idealism and slow-motion vampire decapitations. Watching the attempts to make this a single coherent movie rather than two short films edited together at random is a large part of the fun, even if it a goal it never had any real chance of reaching.
But - and I know going into this that I'm about to start hanging issues onto a narrative too slight to hold them - do we really want to be dealing in fiction that suggests the slave plantations of the American South were being run as farms by malevolent vampires? Do we want - even for 105 minutes of nonsense - to imagine a world in which we could be absolved as a species for our own grotesque moral failings? This bothered me a little in Fevre Dream, too, but at least there it was just a single vampire who saw worth in running a plantation. Here the entire structure of slavery in the States exists because superhuman monsters want it that way. I get the same jitters signing off on that storyline as I do those that suggest Hitler was an alien stooge or a shape-changer. The absolute worst way to respond to grotesque human evil is to suggest some qualitative difference between the evildoers and the rest of us.
On the other hand, though, it's a pretty hilarious slap in the face to every single unbearable fool who insists the Civil War didn't have the fight over slavery at its heart. Of course it did, you idiots. Why else were the vampires involved? "War of Northern Aggression"? You need to check your history kids. You picked the side with all the killer fucking vampires, and what's worse, you've done it retrospectively.
Hell, it's not even that the Southern gentry were aligned with the vampires; they were the vampires, gaining power they could never have forged for themselves by gorging themselves on the lives of others. One could object to the film suggesting Lincoln was even more virtuous than his popular image insists. Here he not only took on the South purely for the benefit of others he did so despite knowing he was kicking an undead hornet's nest that might soon feel the need to start eating white folk. I can respect that viewpoint, but I think it's the wrong one, because it doesn't take into account all the advisers surrounding Lincoln here insisting the war is too great a risk because the vampires might attempt to subjugate the whole of the nation rather than just the slave states. Adapting for the comforting rules of real-world biology, this is exactly what Lincoln was told over and over: it simply wasn't worth the risk. If the price of maintaining the union was letting the worst damn human beings in the country get to keep writing obscene cheques with human blood, then so be it.
Whatever his limitations, whatever his failures, whatever other factors were involved in the war, Lincoln would have none of it. He saw the worst damn people doing the worst damn things, and calling themselves countrymen and Christians whilst they did it. He watched engorged ticks build their balconies from the bones of people they considered property, and he watched them loudly trumpet their intention to murder their neighbours if those neighbours forced them to stop murdering the unpaid, unwilling help. He saw all that, and he stepped forward. He didn't step forward alone, of course - the "great men" never do - but still, he took that step. He took that step, and the Lost Cause was lost, drowned in a fraction of the blood it had spilled for generations, swept away in the same ocean they had once used to raise their slave ships.
It was just that simple. It was always just that simple. And whilst as mentioned I have my concerns about pretending anything separates us from the slavers but time and fortune, and whilst I'm well aware that the move that most enrages our enemies is not necessarily the move we should want to make, AL:VH does us all this one service. It takes the vampires and drags them screaming into the light.