PSA: The Hunger (1983), or Equivocated Elegence

5 09 2009

What the hell, Tony Scott? I feel like you were hiding this film from me! Don’t be shy; just because it doesn’t have a ridiculous amount of jump cuts, an obscenely unflattering color scheme, and enough camera tricks to make me think they used Houdini’s ashes to make the lens, that doesn’t mean its anything to be ashamed of! In fact, I think it might be the best film I’ve ever seen from him. The last time I saw The Hunger, I was 12, maybe 13, and I was more interested in the nudity at that age, so watching this again was like watching it for the first time. It’s a vampire story that isn’t even really a vampire story, and it does what it does better than anyone I’ve seen in a long time.

It all begins with Miriam, a beautiful woman who has lived for a long, long time. She is something entirely different from our kind; she has survived for centuries under different guises, masquerading amongst humans and living besde them, although spiritually horizons apart. She even keeps human companions, offering them eternal life and resilient youth. The offer, as well as her beauty itself, is enticing, but there is a catch. While Miriam lives forever, her suitors are all doomed to a fate worse than death after they live a few hundred years. Her most recent suitor, John, has suffered long enough, and now Miriam has set her sights on someone new; a young and nubile doctor named Sarah, who treated John during his last moments. Miriam will tempt her with her charm, her immense beauty, and her strange gift; will Sarah be able to resist?

The Hunger is a very slow, finely paced film that did not do very well when it was released, chiefly due to the era. This was not a film for the 80s. Movies like this weren’t made that much anymore, and it really perplexed the moviegoing audience at the time. Even Roger Ebert gave it a poor rating, which was usually the death knell for a film like this. It’s a movie with not a lot of plot but a deeply compelling atmosphere; so much atmosphere, in fact, that it should have gotten a credit. It’s creepy, it’s unsettling, and it keeps you in the dark so much that it doesn’t even have to do anything to get you looking behind your shoulder.

Tony Scott uses his camera trickery for good this time around, making something methodical and well worth the wait. He uses the camera like a voyeur uses his telescope; he inserts himself into the intimacy of this tale with precision. And what is a voyeur’s favorite part of the act? The build-up. The time spent watching, burning his obsession into his mind’s eye. Scott does the same thing; he lingers around the characters while they’re thinking, daydreaming, or sleeping. These characters are weighed down by something powerful and unnatural, and Scott keeps every scene in some way from slipping into complacency. We always see something slightly off, slightly jarring, even when we’re away from Miriam, as if to say that the film always has her on her mind.

And why is that? Well, it seems to me that Scott’s obsession is with the beautiful and entrancing Catherine Deneuve, the woman who plays Miriam. She is the impetus of the film, and the medium in which the strange script, based on the novel by Whitley Streiber, comes to life. She is a wonder, a real-life mystery. She creates an X-factor that makes any true understanding of the film’s heart impossible. Her veiled words and her long, impenetrable past make fools of any who dare to put a label on what exactly Miriam is. Miriam’s sexy young partner, Sarah, is actually Susan Sarandon, who is almost unbearably gorgeous here in 1983. They are both dazzling, and their scenes together light up the fog surrounding the movie. If she didn’t have horrible 80s hair (I call it the Blanche Devereaux), I might’ve creamed my pants midway through this view. It’s a sense of vampiric passion that most vampire films explore to a degree, but The Hunger takes it a step further outside of the box because of the simple fact that Miriam isn’t technically a vampire. We don’t know what she is, and so the eponymous becomes whatever you want it to be; there is hunger in all these characters to an extent, so what you think might be different than my opinion.

Oh, and David Bowie is in this film. He plays poor John, and he does a pretty good job with his smoldering, semi-arrogant come hither-isms that makes all the young women swoon so. He actually isn’t in the film for very long, but he gets billing above Sarandon. It’s unfair, but I guess Ziggy Stardust had bigger marquee value at the time. Either way, his part is substantial for what it is, and it’s always interesting to see the Thin White Duke on the silver screen.

With a desire-stricken camera lens, genuinely interesting characters that are opaque at best, and a soundtrack that really puts most others to shame (seriously, it’s awesome; pick it up at Amazon now!), The Hunger is a wonderful debut that should not be forgotten. It’s more than some crappy box art and an appearance by David Bowie. It has a presence that is undeniable, and an emotional impact that is beguiling but satisfying nonetheless. I wish Tony Scott had gone down this route instead of The Taking of Pelham 123, but we can’t change the past, so I’ll just say that this was worth a LOT more than the 30 seconds of celebrity nudity I previously prided this movie on in my adolescence. Check it out; I promise you won’t be disappointed. I give The Hunger 9 1/2 Blanche Devereaux hairdos out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I’ll have something good for you guys! Come back soon and often to send me some suggestions! I need to know what you think I should watch!!!

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