Here’s one of those bizarre coincidences that lead me to believe I’m at least a little bit psychic…
After watching The Hunger (1983) Thursday night, I awoke on Friday morning to a headline in my New York Times daily newsletter that read:
Scientific breakthroughs could soon start slowing the aging process, David Brooks argues.
It’s strange, because I went to bed thinking I was going to counter the widespread belief that the movie is all style and no substance in my review by focusing on its themes of preventing aging and fearing death.
Maybe those themes are too obvious in The Hunger and, at times, a little heavy handed; but they’re such strong themes that they resonate with me. Plus, while they are presented in said obvious manner at the beginning of the film, they then disappear and let us feel the emotions that remain: fear, loneliness, and sadness. It also demonstrates the unexpected and violent means to which people might go in order to survive.
Catherine Deneuve plays Miriam, whose centuries-old husband, John (David Bowie), begins rapidly aging and begging for her to let him go. Miriam and David are some form of vampire that doesn’t grow fangs, but instead slices throats with little knives hidden in the ankhs on their necklaces. There’s no doubt, though, that they need blood to satiate the titular feeling they get when they don’t.
It’s not clear to me why a blood feast no longer keeps John young, but it allows him to visit gerontologist Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon) to see if she can help him before he withers away. (If you read the NYT article, Sarah Roberts would be playing the part of David Brooks.) That’s important because when she first gives him the cold shoulder, it allows her to later visit his home and give Miriam the warm shoulder… and mouth and hips and legs and…
Maybe it’s not that simple and there’s no place for coincidence in The Hunger. We don’t know if Miriam has been targeting Sarah all along. She saw her discussing her book on TV and even stalked her at a signing. Were John’s actions independent, though, or was he part of the plan to find his wife a companion for after he’s gone? This is where the all style, no substance argument could arise. I prefer to think it’s purposely ambiguous. I like not knowing for sure.
I forgot the film is based on a book by Whitley Strieber (Wolfen, Communion.) I don’t know how faithful it is to the source material. Perhaps the novel is more clear. In that case, the approach taken must certainly be credited to director Tony Scott… or the year 1983. Much of The Hunger unfolds as a music video; in fact, I clocked 8 minutes and 38 seconds before any semblance of straightforward narrative began.
I often quote Ordinary People when I say, “Forget how it looks; how does it feel?” In this case, I can’t do the former, but I can bathe in the latter. The Hunger is a moving film for me. The heartbreaking moment is when Miriam, who does love John (I think) and promised to be with him “forever and ever,” instead makes a selfish decision about her own survival and buries him alone in a crate upstairs rather than join him.
At this point, Miriam is the true antagonist, not the sympathetic anti-heroine. There are no hopes that she and Sarah will find similar wedded bliss throughout. This is good for those who like horror. It means we have someone that needs to get what’s coming to her, and it means that it will happen in a truly terrifying way. The ending is scary and intense, with a brief epilogue about as ambiguous as the rest of the film. I love it.
Written by James Costigan and Michael Thomas
From the novel by Whitley Strieber
Directed by Tony Scott
Starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, Susan Sarandon, Cliff De Young, Beth Ehlers, Dan Hedaya
RT 97 min.
Released April 29, 1983
Home Video Warner Archive (Blu-ray)