Jones, Sara Gwenllian. "Vampires, Indians and the Queer Fantastic: Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark." The Cinema of Kathryn Bigelow: Hollywood Transgressor. London: Wallflower Press, 2003. 57-70.
The dynamic between night and day is crucial to Kathryn Bigelow’s 1987 revolutionary vampire film Near Dark that both plays with conventions of the genre and infuses other genre binaries into this film. Bigelow does this to play with genre conventions, an authorial feature that is apparent throughout her canon of work. Jones similarly highlights this fact and mimics this emphasis in the division of her paper dividing it into four parts; Daylight, Nightfall, Twilight and Dawn. Jones’ sets out to reveal how the presence of the western and gothic genre within the film upsets the mythic and ideological values engrained in the Midwestern setting, making any final reading of the film is ambiguous.
Daylight focuses on the western genre and the fact that it is strongly tied to the western landscape. The iconography, narratives and the history is tied to the Wild West and, drawing from the works of Steven Neale and Peter Flynn, reveals the idea of the mythic frontier and a straightforward ideology which centrally champions migration, heroic action and expansive freedom.
Nightfall commences with an expansion on the gothic and Jones notes how, similar to the western genre, the landscape and setting is central to the ideologies, iconography and the action of the genre. The centrality of the monstrous and the dark in many ways contrast with the western and it is suggested that the gothic, which is largely about decay and chaos and is typically European, is in total opposition to the western and the American tradition. Bigelow herself says that Near Dark is a “vampire western” and the mixing of the two genres constitutes what Bazin would call a ‘superwestern’. Within Near Dark though it is the western that dominates and the gothic elements, the vampires within the film, stand in contrast to the world of the film.
The presence of this contrast within the film is said to articulate Todorov’s idea of the fantastic. The fantastic is the injection of the inexplicable and unreal into the real world and the existence and presence of the inexplicable often challenges the culture, power relations and structures present. Within Near Dark it is the naturalized contemporary Midwest that is challenged seeping in the iconography of the western genre.
The author gives detailed reflection on the introduction of the film pointing out the heavy western iconography of the film and also focusing on the dangerous transitions of nightfall and dawn. She elaborates on the introduction of the gothic and the fantastic when Mae first subverts and reverses the gender roles within the film by in fact dominating over the Caleb (the protagonist).
The theme of blood and mixing of blood is especially prevalent in the western genre and is indicative of the racial tensions and depictions of Indians in westerns. The vampires in the film are in many ways representative of the Indian in westerns. Both live in tribes, are nomadic, ungovernable, live unstructured lives are represented as uncivilized savages and are in opposition to the white settlers. The film is similarly reminiscent of the western in that it concludes in a western style shootout where Caleb wins Severn’s spurs.
The film similarly upholds a set of oppositional binaries that are typical to the western. The dualism of ‘civilization’ and ‘wilderness’ that is typical to westerns is represented within the film by the opposition between night and day. The relationship of oppositions in the westerns is by no means clear cut and what makes the genre dynamic is that the flexibility of these oppositions often put into question ideologies and relations. Near Dark similarly not only portrays the other as a threat but also as an alluring entity. The way in which the vampires transgress cultural, moral and even biological norms reveals the benefit and freedom inherent in being ‘the other’.
Twilight, the next section of Jones’ paper, explores the 'other' in greater detail. The “us” verses “them” dynamic is explored and it is revealed that the threat of the other, “lies in its capacity to move across boundaries, to bring the outside into the center and, by the very act of crossing over to disrupt and expose the artifice of naturalized power relations that define themselves in terms in inclusion and exclusion” (68).
The ‘others’ opposition to the normal heterosexual nuclear family is the challenge that is most obvious in Near Dark. The homosexual connotations of this film are present in the seductive assault of the vampires on their victims and the penetration that is required for the vampires to feed among other subtle refers to this fact. The violence itself is said to “particularly, bears homoerotic charge” (Powell,1994,193). Queerness is similarly said to be innately connected to the fantastic and the film draws from the fantastic and the subversion of heterosexual relations for procreation. The fact that both sexes can procreate through contagion places the vampire family in opposition to the typical Midwest, nuclear family.
Queerness is similarly present if one were to reflect on this film in terms of a reactionary text. The film was released during the high of the AIDS epidemic and the metaphor of mixing of blood and contamination through a sexual encounter are consistent throughout the film. Jones though states that this reactionary reading of the text is inadequate largely due to the fact the representation of the vampires does not solely vilify but also demonstrates the allure of the lifestyle, its freedom and is riddled with beauty.
Dawn, the conclusion of the paper demonstrates how the film returns to the normative nuclear family order but the author states that this ending is largely ambiguous. The ‘biological colonization’ of Caleb and Mae by the father is represented by the blood transfusion which once again make the two human. The transformation seems to champion the normative way of life and the reestablishment of patriarchal order but the author states that the unsettling ending puts this into question. Leaving the viewer with more of a question mark than a period.