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How Lighting, Camera Distance and Vampirism Portrays the Death of the Rural Countryside in 1980s America in the Movie ‘Near Dark’

America in the nineteen-eighties was a difficult time for farmers and landowners as the expansion of cities destroyed agricultural land and engulfed small towns. Literature and film created in this time period often portrayed rural communities as a utopia due to a negative stigma associated with the advancement of technology and growth of urban life (Dyer 54). The feature film, Near Dark, released in 1987 uses camera distance, lighting and vampirism to portray the death of the rural countryside in nineteen-eighties America.

The movie follows Caleb, a young man having grown up in a rural farming community who wants nothing more than to escape the small-town life and travel “a thousand miles from here tonight.” The opening scenes of the movie show the sun setting over the rolling fields, the light fading and darkness falling the further Caleb drives into his small town. This is the first sense the viewer has that lightness, and therefore life, is a feature of the rural areas. As the movie progresses, city scenes are shot solely in the night’s darkness, while the countryside remains a contrasting golden hew of daylight. This portrays the sinister aspects of city life. If the protagonist had been a city man falling prey to the vampiric lifestyle, the film would have lost this representation entirely. However, having the vampires, one of which is the love of Caleb’s life, lure him into the city, contrasts the innocence or rural life with the malevolence of urban. Vampires, trapped in limbo between life and death, are often shot with there faces half in darkness and half in light. The light depicting the life they yearn to have in the country, the dark depicting the cities that engulf them. Mae, a vampire, meets Caleb in the country, suggesting the city moving into the country. Mae’s line, “look, the night, it’s so bright it’ll blind you,” suggests she’s been kept in the dark from her crimes, and therefore the cities’ crimes. In “Rural America in Film and Literature” Dyer argues that this depiction is idealized: “Although this sentimental yearning for ponds, vegetable gardens, and old houses set deeply in the woods seems relatively harmless, it frequently prevents us from recognizing and understanding the hard realities of our rural population: financial difficulties of the farmers, unemployment of miners and loggers, boredom and confusion of youth living in small country towns.” The title itself, Near Dark, is a commentary on the lighting, the skyscrapers that will soon cast a shadow over the countryside, leaving it in darkness. Dyer points out that this sense of rural utopia is fictionalized and portrays a biased view of rural standard of living.

Furthermore, camera distance is used to create a similar effect. After Caleb is initially bit by Mae, he runs home to safety. The fields he runs through are shot with loose framing to suggest freedom and safety. He can run in any direction, it’s only the vampire bite and the growing infection that slows him down. However, the moment Caleb is kidnapped by the vampires he is sequestered into an RV where the framing is tight suggesting the confinement of the expanding cities. Tight framing and confined spaces are used every time Caleb is pressured to act in a criminal manner; the train car with only one exit, the dive bar where Severn instructs Caleb to kill for the first time, and the hotel room where the vampires find themselves under the attack of the police. These close shots give the impression of claustrophobia, while the shots of the ranch are always loose with wide frames. When Caleb’s father and sister visit the police to enquire about Caleb’s missing person’s case, we once again have tight framing and shadowy lighting. This suggests that the country folk are turning towards authority, and therefore the city for help, which is leading them into darkness. In the end, it is not the police or even the hospital that brings Caleb to safety and health, but rather his return to the countryside.

Lastly, a significant historical event of the nineteen-eighties is the discovery of AIDS, a disease rampant in many young urban men (CDC 430). In cinema, vampires have often been symbolic of the detriments of unsafe blood transfer and the spreading of disease (Marty 416-432). Near Dark is no exception. Caleb and Mae’s first sexual encounter, a simple kiss turned bite, leads to the transfer of blood that infects Caleb and turns him into a vampire. A creature of the night. A city dweller. The drinking of blood is played out in overtly sexual ways, often leading to the death of the human, which suggests the spreading of AIDS throughout the city, causing an influx in mortality. It should be noted that when Caleb watches Mae kill for the first time there are oil rigs in the background. She sucks the blood from a man while the city sucks the “life” from the Earth. Since vampires acting sexually towards their prey before killing them is not unlike the oilrigs “raping” the rural landscape. Although the vampires reside in the city, their prey tends to be people in rural areas, like the country folk in the dive bar, people that won’t be missed. Furthermore, when Caleb chooses not to kill in order to survive, there’s a sign in the background reading “Because Clean Hay Pays,” which once again connects the countryside to life and survival. In the end, Caleb cannot overcome his sickness until he returns to his home in the country. He no longer wants to run away from small town life, instead he’s found contentment within. The last scene is of Mae choosing to love by joining Caleb in the country; she too is given a second chance at life now that she has put the city behind her. In “Embracing the metropolis: Urban Vampires in American Cinema of the 1980s and 90s” Abbott writes, “Since Stoker’s novel, vampires, particularly in film, have been increasingly attracted to cities in which they are free to hunt amongst the crowds… The vampire in cinema is no longer an outsider representing the pre-modern but rather embraces the metropolis as its home and through it modernity itself.” When Caleb and Mae leave the city, they no longer embrace modernity and therefore can no longer be considered vampires.

The nineteen-eighties were a time when rural life was depicted in film and literature as a utopia that should be strived towards, as the expansion of city goes hand in hand with the expansion of crime (Dyer 54). Although this a skewed view of rural living, it is a reminder that with change comes fear. Much like changing from human to vampire. Near Dark uses lighting, camera distance and vampirism to depict the death of the rural countryside due to the expansion of cities. However, it also suggests hope. Hope that people can realize when something is wrong, fight against it, and return to what is safe and pure. An especially poignant line, delivered by Mae in this film is, “Don’t think of it as killing. Don’t think at all.” This line juxtaposes the intention of the film, to have the viewer consider the expansion of evil, and take action against it.

Cited:

Abbott, Stacey. “Embracing the metropolis: Urban vampires in American cinema of the 1980s and 90s.” Vampires: Myths and metaphors of enduring evil 28 (2006): 125.

Bigelow, Kathryn. “Near Dark.” Perf. Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen. F/M (1987).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC. “HIV and AIDS–United States, 1981-2000.” MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report 50.21 (2001): 430.

Dyer, Joyce. “Rural America in Film and Literature.” The English Journal 76.1 (1987): 54-57.

Fink, Marty. “AIDS Vampires: Reimagining Illness in Octavia Butler’s “Fledgling”.” Science Fiction Studies (2010): 416-432.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Broadview Press, 1997.

Hopeless and Helpless: Hans Fallada Depicts Individual Resistance as Futile in his Novel ‘Every Man Dies Alone’

Fallada, Hans. Every Man Dies Alone. New York: Melville House, 2009.

Hans Fallada’s nineteen-forty-seven novel, Every Man Dies Alone, depicts German citizens living under the Nazi regime as eager to resist dictatorship yet hopeless in their attempts. Two such characters, Otto and Anna Quangel, lose their only child to the war and decide to write post cards that call attention to the tyranny of Hitler, the Führer. They put their lives in jeopardy in hopes of spreading resistance, however, by the end of the novel they come to realize that all they have done is incite fear into already petrified citizens and further incriminate innocents. Otto and Anna fall into the category of victims, desperate not to be bystanders to the cruelty and wrong doings of the Nazi regime. However, not even their attempts at morality make them likable characters: Otto is a cold, bird-faced man who prefers solitude and Anna is the epitome of a stereotype: “It was harder for Anna Quangel than it was for her husband: she was a woman (485).” At the time, there were other people like the Quangels, for instance the White Rose Society, who used non-violent, intellectual resistance and were met with the same fate. It can be speculated that if all the resistors of similar nature had come together, a more immediate and successful impact could have been made.

Other characters like Enno Kluge and Emil Borkhausen resist the Nazi regime by shirking their work duties, stealing and generally acting against the Party. However, these actions are not consciously anti-Nazi, but rather due to their inherent laziness and criminal inclinations. These characters are both bystanders and perpetrators, carefree to the general wellness of Germany and its people by being strictly self-serving. Kluge, a gambling addict and womanizer, ends up dead at the hands of a Gestapo inspector; his death is as meaningless and unimpactful as his life. Borkhausen survives the war, but has no character arc, and is as useless and pathetic on the final page as he was on the first. Such people made little difference to the Nazi regime due to the fact that the shirking was unintentional and a form of purely individual resistance. If Kluge had persuaded his entire factory to shirk work with him, the war effort would have been impacted on a much larger scale. Once again, individual resistance equals futility.

Every Man Dies Alone also takes a look into the lives of the Nazi Party, where we get to know Inspector Escherich, the man tasked with tracking down the writer of the post cards. Escherich is a self-important man, overly aware of his value to the Gestapo, yet unwilling to bend to their rules. After two years of patiently waiting out the post card writer, the Gestapo grow sick of his tactics and throw him in the basement, where he is beaten into submission. He later returns to his position, more set on tracking down the writer than ever before. This character arc depicts fear as a cause for motive. Escherich’s beatings turn him further against Otto, the writer of the postcards, rather than against the people who betray him, the Party. In the end Escherich comes to the conclusion that the only person the post cards truly affected, was him, and then proceeds to commit suicide. There is no resistance in Escherich’s character, and yet he meets the same unforgiving death as the rest of them, further depicting the helplessness of Nazi Germany, even for the perpetrators.

In conclusion, I believe Every Man Dies Alone portrays German people during the Nazi Regime as people without the essential human characteristic of love. Otto Quangel is not heart broken when his only son dies, but rather irritated when his wife says, “… you and that Führer of yours (13)!”  Kluge and Borkhausen take advantage of everyone in their path without the slightest regard for their family or friends. Escherich lives his life for work and nothing more, killing himself after closing the most difficult case of his life. This depiction of Germans is cold and may reflect Fallada’s personal strife, lack of love, and hopelessness in resistance more than that of the actual German people during this time. Interestingly, Fallada’s depiction of individual resistance is weaved together with a web of connections, showing how each character intersects the other, and asking the question: would collective resistance have a greater impact?

NetGalley and New Classics

I’m very excited to be joining NetGalley and start reviewing books. As an intern for New Classics Books, I’ve learned the importance of media, bloggers, and book reviews when it comes to getting your book into the market. NetGalley is an online platform that can get newly or not-yet published books into the hands of reviewers before the big launch date.

I’m really thrilled to have discovered NetGalley, and can thank the amazing New Classics Books for their leadership and training in children’s literature publication.

New Classics Books launched three amazing children’s books in October 2019, and I couldn’t recommend them highly enough. Their first and my favourite of the three is Monsters Are Afraid of Babies which follows the story of a young boy who brings his baby sister to bed to help protect him from the frightful monsters that lurk in the night. The second book is The Kingdom of Glee, which is a great book for children to learn how to name and express their emotions, while reading about kings, kingdoms, monsters and magic. Last but certainly not least is The Kitten, the Cat & the Apple, which follows the simple story of a bored kitten, and his journey to understanding that life is only as boring as you make it.

Along with these amazing stories are book trailers which can be found on YouTube. Happy reading and happy Halloween.

Postpartum

Postpartum is dark short story published by Bangalore Review in September 2019. I’m very excited to announce its publication, and would love any and everyone to slide on over to The Bangalore Review and check it out. I’d also love to hear any comments and criticisms.

Helen

The Hero’s Journey, An Ogre’s Perspective

The Hero’s Journey is a classic story structure that has been utilized, moulded and recreated since ancient myths. Almost every story, no matter the genre or content, follows this structure (consciously or not). For a writer, it’s an ideal template to help guild your story through a satisfying arc. The Hero’s Journey is not meant to confine or contain your creative capacity, but rather encourage and steer it. Before you start bending and breaking the rules, it’s important you know them. And what better guild can you have than Shrek himself?

Large studio production companies often look for The Hero’s Journey when they read your script. Although the Hero’s Journey was originally mapped out by Joseph Campell in A Hero with a Thousand Faces, most production companies look to Christopher Vogler’s more refined and comprehensive version in The Writer’s Journey. So, without further adieu, let’s begin.

Ordinary World

The ordinary world sets the stage. It shows the protagonist, Shrek, and his home, the swamp. We immediately like Shrek because of his sarcastic wit and sympathize with him because of those awful humans who are out to kill him. We also note that he’s lonely and completely uninterested in making friends. We feel for him.

Call To Adventure

The Call To Adventure is the second step in the Hero’s Journey. Our hero, Shrek, is presented with a problem that calls him to action. After being followed home by a deeply disturbed talking Donkey, Shrek wakes up the next morning to find every single magical creature in his yard. They have no where else to go. They’ve been exiled by Lord Farquaad (our antagonist!). Shrek, furious at the thought of fairy tale creatures inhabiting his swamp, promises to confront Lord Farquaad so everyone can go back where they came from. For the first time ever, Shrek is celebrated as a hero.

Refusal of the Call

Step three is the Refusal of the Call. Now, you’re probably thinking that Shrek didn’t refuse the call. He showed up at Lord Farquaad’s castle and kicked some butt. And right you are, however the call he refuses is the quest Lord Farquaad gives him. Shrek doesn’t want to go on a quest to rescue some princess from a tower, he just wants his swamp back, free of fairy tale creatures. However, to force Shrek into accepting the call, Lord Farquaad promises to return his swamp to normal once the princess has been rescued. Now our reluctant hero, is on a mission.

The Mentor

The Mentor, if not already introduced, will appear at this point in the story. The mentor might be a wise old Oracle (like in the Matrix) or a grandmother (like in Moana). In this case, Shrek’s mentor is Donkey. At first, you might think it’s the other way around. Shrek is constantly enlightening Donkey on the ways of life “An Ogre is like an onion”. While Donkey, seemingly an idiot, just takes the world of adventure in with enthusiasm like no other. But, like it or not, Donkey is in fact the mentor. He asks Shrek questions which exposes the quest to the audience, he encourages Shrek, and most importantly he wants Shrek to succeed. As stated in The Writer’s Journey, “The function of Mentors is to prepare the Hero to face the unknown.” And that is exactly what Donkey does.

Crossing the First Threshold

In a standard two-hour movie, Crossing the First Threshold will usually happen about thirty minutes in. The first threshold is the first act turning point that leads into the much larger act two. When the Hero crosses the first threshold, he is going past the point of no return. He is taking real action that proves he’s following through with the quest. Shrek crosses his first threshold when he walks the rickety bridge over a moat of lava that leads into a decrepit dungeonous castle.

Tests, Allies, and Enemies

Tests, Allies, and Enemies is a natural sixth step of the Hero’s Journey. This is where the protagonist develops. We see his strengths and his weaknesses, his wants and his needs (even if he hasn’t realized his needs yet himself). Shrek sets off to find Princess Fiona in a quickly crumbing castle. Why is is crumbling? Because Donkey is feverishly trying to escape the clutches of a fire breathing dragon. However, this is where the audience is met with unsuspecting reversals. When Shrek finds Fiona, he doesn’t give her true loves first kiss, he shakes her awake and tells her to get moving. And Donkey doesn’t fight off the fire breathing dragon, he sweet talks her, luring her in with his charming words. Here we begin to understand that Shrek wants nothing more than his swamp back, no matter how that effects the creatures around him. However what he needs is connections through friendship and love. Something he has never experienced before.

Approach the Innermost Cave

In The Writer’s Journey, approaching the innermost cave is defined as “The hero comes at last to the edge of a dangerous place, sometimes deep underground, where the object of the quest is hidden… When the hero enters that fearful place he will cross the second major threshold.” Now you’re probably thinking, wait a minute! Wasn’t the dragon guarded castle the innermost cave? Nope! That was nothing more that a battle of strength and deception, a small test of physical ability that had very little to do with Shrek’s innermost problems. Shrek’s innermost cave is opening his heart to love, and discovering that Princess Fiona is the very thing his life has been missing. Now as he eavesdrops on a conversation between Fiona and Donkey, Shrek misconstrues what they are talking about when he overhears Fiona says, “Princess and ugly don’t go together, that’s why I can’t stay here with Shrek.” Shrek immediately reverts back to his old beliefs that no one could ever love an ogre. When in reality, Fiona just hasn’t learned to love herself.

The Ordeal

Defined as “a black moment for the audience, as we are held in suspense and tension, not knowing if he will live or die… In romantic comedies the death faced by the hero may simply be the temporary death of the relationship…” In Shrek’s case, his death is exactly that, not knowing if he will ever be united with his true love. Do you define Shrek as a romantic comedy? Probably not, but you definitely should! This is Shrek’s lowest point. He has just given Princess Fiona to Lord Farquaad and now returns to his swamp where the fairy tale creatures have been rightfully shipped out. Fiona prepares for her wedding with a man she doesn’t love. Who pulls him out of this pit of despair? None other than his best friend and mentor, Donkey. Now they’re up against a ticking clock with a new quest: get to Fiona before she marries Farquaad.

Reward

“The hero now takes possession of the treasure he has come seeking, his reward.” Shrek barges in on Fiona and Farquaad’s wedding, sees Fiona’s true form and falls even more deeply in love with her. He gets the girl (which is generally the reward in romcoms) and comes out the other side having fulfilled his innermost need. Shrek has learned how to form true connections and therefore also learns that having the swamp to himself, isn’t actually what he wants. He wants to share it with his true love. This is cause for celebration.

The Road Back

The road back is debatably a step not used in Shrek’s journey. However, I look at it as the moment Fiona realizes her true love’s first kiss has left her in ogre from. She fears Shrek won’t love her if she isn’t beautiful and Shrek insists that he thinks she is beautiful. This also completes Fiona’s arc, crushing her prior idolization of conventional beauty and finally being able to rock the ogre form. “This stage marks the decision to return to the Ordinary World.” So what happens next? We return to the swamp.

Resurrection

The resurrection is a “kind of final exam for the hero…” What would be a better test for a non-committal bachelor than marriage? Shrek and Fiona finish their rom-com romance by returning to the swamp and getting married. All the other fairy tale folks including Donkey and Dragon are their to cheer them on. Shrek has been resurrected into a new ogre, finally open to love, friendship and the beautiful world around him.

Return with the Elixir

“The Elixir is the magic potion with the power to heal.” If we recall the beginning of Shrek you can remember that first we met the miserable Donkey. Then we met all the miserable fairy-tale creatures. Lastly we met the depressed and antagonizing dragon. And now what do we see? The last scene of Shrek shows that Shrek has returned home with the Elixir (Fiona’s love) and now everyone else is able to find happiness, healing and peace too. Donkey has Dragon. The fairy-tale creatures have places to stay. Everyone is singing and dancing and happy, all because Shrek returned home with the Elixir. Of the twelve steps, this is the last one. In Shrek it’s a very short musical scene that brings closure to all the characters in the movie.

And that is the Hero’s Journey. I highly encourage you to take ANY movie you like and watch it with the intention of pairing it with the Hero’s Journey. You’ll be surprised how many of these steps are essential in order to make a compelling and well paced plot. Also, make note of any of the steps a movie doesn’t hit. Do you think it works well without this step?