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Film / Byzantium

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"My story starts with Clara. One day it will end with her."

Byzantium is a 2013 British-Irish fantasy thriller film directed by Neil Jordan (of Interview with the Vampire fame). It centres around a mother-daughter vampire duo, who have spent their lives on the run for two centuries.

Clara (Gemma Arterton) and her daughter Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) have spent decades on the move, never settling too long in one place. When Clara kills another vampire hunting them, they're forced to leave town quickly and decide to lay low in a run-down coastal resort.

After Clara runs into the rather lonely Noel, whilst out hooking for some cash, she convinces him to let them stay at the property his mother left him; the Byzantium Hotel. Whilst her mother starts setting up her business, Eleanor shows increasing signs of frustration and resentment over the life she leads.

Then she runs into a young man named Frank.

Byzantium contains examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: Clara is somewhere between Pragmatic Hero and Unscrupulous Hero; most of her questionable actions are to protect her daughter.
  • Asshole Victim: Ruthven deserves his death many times over.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Captain Ruthven, who is the one who kickstarts the events that lead to both Carla and Eleanor into becoming vampires, and Savella, the leader of the Brethren who spent two centuries hunting mother and daughter down.
  • Boy Meets Ghoul: The film has Frank meet and subsequently fall for vampire Eleanor.
  • Break the Cutie: Captain Ruthven plucks a young Clara from her job picking cockles on the beach, carries her off to a brothel and makes her a whore, turning her into the flawed human being she is now. He also rapes a 16 year old Eleanor to infect her with syphilis and subject her to the same slow, agonizing death he faced due to her mother's actions.
  • Bystander Syndrome: Darvell's Fatal Flaw. He doesn't do much to protect Clara from Ruthven, other than lamely telling her not to go with him, and fails to defend her to the Brotherhood when she tries to join. When asked what he wants most, if he could have anything, it's Clara's pardon.
  • Child by Rape: Eleanor, whose mother was a sex slave.
  • Daughter Of A Whore: Eleanor was born to Clara while she was working as a prostitute in a brothel. As a result, Clara let Eleanor be raised in a respectable private orphanage so she will have a better life, while secretly paying for her upkeep using her earnings from sex work. In the present, Clara still does sex work to support them both.
  • Coming of Age Story: The whole film is one for Eleanor, who rebels against her mother for the first time, falls in love, and finally is independent enough to go out on her own at the end.
  • Daywalking Vampire: All the vampires shown have no aversion or weakness to sunlight and can move about in the day completely unaffected. Most of their activities take place at night, but this appears to be from a desire to stay undetected, not to mention Clara's "occupation" rather than because it's harmful. The opening of the film even shows them sleeping and waking up in a field in the middle of the morning and showing no reaction to the sun and Eleanor is regularly outside during the day.
  • Deal with the Devil: In order to become a vampire, people must go into a shrine on a remote island where they make a deal with the "Nameless Saint", implied to be a demon or something similar.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The Brethren's entire attitude towards women not being allowed to join their ranks, regardless of their merit. Clara was denied entry just over two centuries ago, which was hardly a time for enlightened views on women in general. But then you realise the Brethren are strongly implied to be much, much older than that and time clearly hasn't shaken the trappings of countless centuries of sexism by the time Clara wants to join. The fact her low birth is also a strike against her falls squarely into this trope too.
  • Disappeared Dad: Eleanor was born to a sex slave, and thus naturally her father is unknown, though he might be Ruthven (if so in fact she's better off with him being absent).
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Eleanor and Clara part ways, but on fairly amicable terms. Eleanor takes Frank to the shrine on the island and helps him to become a vampire, while Clara joins up with Darvell as travelling companions, and possibly more..
  • Eldritch Abomination: Whatever it is that inhabits the shrine.
  • Eldritch Location: The island, and whatever it is that lurks in the shrine.
  • Emergency Transformation: There are several examples in the film, which is justified by the fact that becoming a vampire not only cures terminal illnesses or injuries, but also by the fact that only those who are dying can become vampires in this story.
    • Darvell sought to become a vampire due to his failing health, caused by complications stemming from old war injuries.
    • Darvell shares the secret of vampirism with Ruthven because he's dying of syphilis although it's implied he actually intended for it to be Clara all along, who was slowly dying of tuberculosis.
    • Clara was prompted to turn Eleanor into a vampire after she was raped and infected with syphilis, which would've resulted in a slow and painful death for her.
    • Eleanor suggests that Frank, who is dying of leukaemia, become a vampire. The ending has her bringing him to the island.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The vampire brotherhood takes great offense to Clara having stolen the gift of immortality, especially given she's a "low-born" woman. But they have no grounds to execute her as she hasn't broken their code. It seems, woman or not, she's a vampire and they don't kill their own kind without cause. So she's told to keep to their rules and exiled.
  • Evil Is Petty: The Brethen have spent two centuries hunting down a mother and her daughter. The reason? Clara was not allowed to sire a vampire because she's a woman. Their motivation is proven to be little more than petty sexism when it's made clear Clara and Eleanor are more than capable of maintaining The Masquerade. In fact, hunting them is arguably leaving more evidence around than simply letting them be.
  • For Great Justice: The Brethren's claimed goal is to work for this. We see no evidence of it in the film however.
  • For the Evulz: The Captain's motivations for his abduction, imprisonment and repeated rapes of Clara. Throughout the film it's made clear he simply enjoys turning innocent girls into sex slaves for his own sick amusement. Clara was just unlucky enough to be his "favorite girl" among those he sold to the brothel.
  • Frozen Fashion Sense: Clara and Eleanor dress in clothes that appear to be from the late 70s, early 80s. This may have been the last time they had money to purchase clothes.
  • Gender Flip: Critics pointed out that much of the film is basically a gender-flipped take on Jordan's earlier film adaptation of Interview with the Vampire.
  • Good All Along: Darvell has been following Clara and Eleanor for centuries just so that he could be the one to save them when the time came.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Darvell decides to turn on the Brethren and save Clara's life rather than blindly follow their rules any longer. In the end he asks to journey with her in the hopes she can forgive him for standing by all those years ago.
  • Honor Before Reason: Eleanor hates upholding The Masquerade and doesn't know why it's necessary, so she's brutally honest about it to Noel, Frank, Kevin, and Morag. Not only does this endanger her and them, but none of them believe her anyway.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Clara towards Eleanor. It is debatable whether she cares for Noel at all, or if she is just using him so she can take over the hotel, though she's noticeably upset when he falls to his death.
  • I Hate You Vampire Mom: Eleanor quite understandably resents Clara for turning her into a vampire. It's revealed part of her mother's motivation was to ease her own loneliness rather than simply "saving her." The film takes place after they've had to live on the run, and under the radar, for over two centuries, and Eleanor has grown weary of it all.
  • Incurable Cough of Death:
    • Clara gains this in her adult life before she turned into a vampire. She's also shown coughing up blood.
    • Darvell suffered some kind of wound in the Napoleonic Wars that gave him this as well.
  • Mama Bear: Clara will go to any lengths to protect Eleanor. Even when it looks like she's finally been overpowered by the Brethren, she is screaming, fighting, and kicking to the last.
  • Maybe Ever After: For Clara and Darvell, now that they're planning on Walking the Earth together.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Unsurprisingly Clara, as she's an exotic dancer and former prostitute. Gemma Arterton plays an attractive vampire who spends the vast majority of the movie wearing sexy clothing. And Clara's introduction to viewers is giving someone a lap dance in her underwear. It occasionally crosses into Fan Disservice though, due to the fact Clara was forced into prostitution at a young age and only does sex work purely for survival.
  • Mum Looks Like a Sister: Clara looks like Eleanor's older sister rather than her mother, due to being vampires who stopped aging. Clara is shown to have only been around twenty when giving birth to Eleanor anyway. Due to this, in the present both pretend they are sisters.
  • Must Be Invited: Not made totally obvious in the film. Clara and Eleanor wait for invitations when entering any residence, but there is no discussion as to whether they can enter or not if they don't get one. When Clara tries to kill Frank, she demands to be invited in or that he should come outside. She's stopped from going any further by the phone call hijacked by Savella.
  • My Beloved Smother: Clara to Eleanor. Even though both of them are hundreds of years old, Clara still treats Eleanor like a child, including refusing to tell her why they need to keep moving. Part of Clara's character development is learning to let go of "her baby."
  • Noble Demon: Darvell. Despite the rather elitist company he surrounds himself with, he has always shown Clara kindness and is by far the most likable member of the Brethren. His loyalty to the group is born out of the fact they saved his life. He also respects both Clara and her daughter for how they've chosen their victims. He eventually sides with Clara in the finale.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished:
    • Poor Noel. He takes in an apparently desperate mother and child and ends up dead for his trouble.
    • Morag, too. She only tries to help what she believes is a troubled teenage girl and ends up being brutally murdered by vampires.
  • Off with His Head!: This seems to be the standard means of killing vampires, as all those that are killed during the story are decapitated.
  • Our Vampires Are Different:
    • Clara and Eleanor avoid the V-word mostly, not even really referring to themselves with a specific term. In her stories, Eleanor uses the term "soucriant". They're completely unaffected by sunlight, appear in photographs and mirrors, don't have visible fangs, are much stronger than humans and no mention is made of crucifixes and garlic. It is hinted when Eleanor goes to Frank's birthday dinner and when Clara tries to kill Frank that they need to be invited in. When they feed, their nails, usually on the thumb, grows rapidly whereupon they slit an artery and drink from it. To be made into a "soucriant", you need to travel to a remote island, enter a creepy shrine and apparently make a deal with the "Nameless Saint". It is stated that only those who are willing or ready to die can be turned into a vampire. Specifically the name "soucriant" is used in Caribbean folklore for a local variety of vampire, though it bears little resemblance to those in the film.
    • It's not made explicit, but being a vampire seems to make one naturally charismatic, as multiple people seem willing to help Eleanor or Clara immediately after meeting them.
  • Parental Incest: Ruthven raped Eleanor, who is quite possibly his daughter. Not that he'd care.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Nearly all members of the vampire Brethren hold very open contempt for women. Clara uses this to her advantage by playing herself off as the stupid, uneducated whore they think she is.
  • Poor Communication Kills: In their nearly 200 years together as vampires, Clara has never told Eleanor about the Brethren or why they always have to be on the run. This causes Eleanor to assume that she and Clara are the only vampires alive, and that her mother’s rules about hiding are solely to control her.
  • Rain of Blood: Well, waterfall of blood, anyway, which Clara bathes under after becoming a vampire.
  • Rape as Drama: Basically, rape is the genesis of the film - Clara's, and later Eleanor's, rapes at the hands of the Captain make them "ready to die" and allow them to become vampires.
  • Sex Slave: Clara was forced into prostitution by Ruthven in a brothel. Also, it's heavily implied he's done this before to other young women. After that he raped her repeatedly himself (along with his friends).
  • Shout-Out:
  • Sliding Scale of Vampire Friendliness: Clara and Eleanor are fairly amiable, and don't seem to enjoy killing, nor are they totally ruled by their hunger. Clara only feeds on and kills "bad" men like pimps, while Eleanor takes old and sick people who have expressed a wish to die. However, Clara describes herself as "ruthless" and shows it - garroting Werner, killing the pimp to take his business, killing Kevin to keep the secret, attempting to kill Frank, and she'd have killed Morag too if she'd got to her first. Clara's ruthlessness, though, may not come from being a vampire, only abetted by it, such as when she shot the Captain back when she was human.
  • Stern Chase: Clara and Eleanor have been pursued by the Brethren for 190 years because Clara broke the Brethren code in creating Eleanor.
  • Stronger with Age: Seemingly averted. Clara is able to kill Werner with relative ease and wrestles Savella to the ground despite both being older than she (Savella having lived through the Crusades). It is unknown if the vampires actually have super strength or if it's just proportional to their height and weight like humans, though Clara being able to easily overpower men to feed on them and punch through a windscreen like it was nothing suggests they are at least much stronger than humans.
  • Supernaturally Young Parent: Clara looks more like Eleanor's sister than her mother, due to both being vampires who stopped ageing when they were transformed (they actually pose as sisters for part of the film). However, Clara was already quite young when she gave birth to Eleanor as a human (around twenty or so). Their actresses are eight years apart.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: No one even seems to take any notice of Noel's bloody corpse on top of the elevator near the end. To be fair, Savella and Darvell probably don’t care all that much about a dead human and Morag was likely more concerned with Eleanor’s well-being.
  • Vampire Procreation Limit: Vampires are created by travelling to a remote island - the location of which is known only to other vampires - and being turned by some kind of Eldritch Abomination that dwells there. It's further stated that only those who are ready to die - primarily the terminally ill - can become vampires. The Brethren - the de facto leaders of the vampires - also have rules in place about who can and can't become a vampire; they usually only approach men of high social standing for recruitment and women are forbidden from facilitating the creation of vampires, with the punishment being death to both the creator and her progeny.
  • Waistcoat of Style: Frank's usual attire.