The Movie Daybreakers Asks Tough Questions Without Controversy
The fantasy genre can often get away with asking questions that in any other genre would be highly controversial. By adding the fantastical elements people can look at the questions as outside their world. Without real world examples controversial questions can be addressed more rationally. The 2009 movie Daybreakers uses the vampiric element to question what we are willing to do to survive and when survival is not enough.
The movie begins its questioning (and the story) with a dramatic scene of what appears to be a normal little girl waiting for the sun to rise. After flashing to the note she was writing "will never grow up" "can't go on" you realize she is not really a little girl at all. She is a vampire that can never grow up and you are watching her suicide. When does living become only surviving? When is survival no longer enough? And because she is an immortal being even her suicide becomes less controversial because you begin asking yourself "If I lived forever would I eventually want it to end?"
Daybreakers uses the now very common vampiric elements to contextualize their questions. The movie is set in a modern world not terribly dissimilar from our own. However, it is beset by the third world issue of society wide hunger because this world is populated by vampires and the humans are becoming extinct. When vampirism first appeared in their society many people chose to cross over to survive. Those humans that did not turn are hunted down for their blood.
So this is a society populated by those who chose to become monsters in order to continue surviving. And as it becomes obvious that even that choice was not enough and that they are in danger of loosing themselves completely due to starvation they become even more monstrous in their efforts to survive. Those with blood become subject to attack and a mob mentality begins to rule the day. Eventually they turn on the vampires most desperate for blood and slaughter them. Rather than share what food remains they choose to cull their population.
Juxtaposed against this bleak modern image is the gritty, earthy struggle of the last remaining free humans to not become the vampires next food source. These humans who rejected the choice to become monsters simply to survive struggle to find a place to live in this new world. But unlike in the vampires' world their struggles cause them to band together rather than pull apart.
The humans remained true to their ideals. They did not turn their backs and what their were in an effort to survive. And while many of the humans were rounded up by the vampires and farmed like milk cows those that remained free were brought together by their struggle. The poeple who turned their backs on their humanity to grab desperately at life, while they gained several more years free of conflict (notice I did not use the world peace), they were eventually pulled apart by the hunger crisis that hit their society.
The main character, a hematologist named Edward Dulton (played by Ethan Hawke) spends the movie searching for a way to come to peace with the monstrous life he had been forced into by his brother Frankie (played by Michael Dorman), who couldn't imagine surviving without his brother. First Edward searches for a synthetic food because he can not live with the idea of farming humans for their blood. Several times he looks in on the "blood banks" and his torment over the life he has been forced into is obvious. When he hears of the possibility of a cure he spends the rest of his time desperately seeking that cure - trying to find his way back to who he was. Edward did not appreciate the change his brother had forced on him and though he obviously tried to assimilate (before he heard of the cure) he never came to peace with his brother's choice.
Later in the movie we are presented with another individual who is forced into the change. Charles Bromley (played by Sam Neill), the head of Bromley Marks Pharmaceuticals (the organization responsible for rounding up the humans), had cancer when the opportunity presented by vampirism first became apparent. He jumped at the chance to survive and remain with his daughter. His daughter Alison (played by Isabel Lucas) was horrified by his decision and fed from him. Nevertheless Bromely is determined to continue his life with his daughter, so when she is captured with a group of humans rounded up for the blood bank he forces the change on her.
When Alison realizes she has become a vampire she becomes unhinged. She refuses the blood her father offers her and attacks and drinks from her father. As she begins to drink her own blood she changes further into one of the starving monsters that the vampire society puts down in their efforts to conserve their food source. Even after that traumatic scene Bromely refuses to admit he might have made a poor choice when he became a vampire.
Eventually Edward Dulton does discover the cure and sets in motion the events which will eventually lead to the extinction of vampires. While he begins the chain reaction of events Elvis Cormac (played by Willem Dafoe) pontificates about how the world was made for humans and it never accepted vampires. An interesting thought upon which to end the movie. Those who chose to become monsters so that they could survive were never accepted and destined to become extinct.
The movie presented a controversial topic, and it presented it in a fascinating way. That vampirism wasn't something to be sought after but rather abhorred and the idea that vampires out number the humans were both ideas that aren't usually seen in modern vampire stories. The idea was well executed and enjoyable.
However, there was more blood and gore than I generally appreciate in my movies and more nudity than was strictly necessary. For a full break down of the movie plot and a full content advisor visit the International Movie Database. And after enjoying your movies don't forget to ask what world view it was encouraging.