A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Screenwriter: Ana Lily Amirpour
Release Date: 2014, USA
Running Time: 101 min.
BY STEVEN GRAY
One afternoon a long time ago I found myself standing next to a dead body. It was drained of blood. That became clear when someone pulled back the layers of the torso (pre-cut along three sides) and revealed the organs tightly packed together. They looked like clay, lacking the life-giving lubrication of blood. This was after hours in the anatomy lab of a local school. My girlfriend was a student and knew the teaching assistant who let us in. He unwrapped the plastic around two cadavers, male and female. He pulled the dry heart out of the chest of the dead man and held it in the air.
If you don’t see blood very often (yours or someone else’s) you might lose track of your red-blooded mortality. I remember an older poet asking if I know what it’s like to see my blood every day. He had been a junkie for years. Most men have to be reckless or get into fights in order to see their blood. Women see it every month. There is a reality check beneath your skin. You’re so veined.
Most men have to be reckless or get into fights in order to see their blood. Women see it every month. There is a reality check beneath your skin. You’re so veined.
And here comes a vampire, like a bat with the power of a shark. It can smell your life-force and it wants to steal it for itself. It could be a pale and lifeless aristocrat who is too effete to withstand sunlight. Sleeping in a coffin all day makes it necessary to go out at night and meet people and kill them and suck their juices out. Sounds like a predatory insect or some larger creature which can see in the dark. A vampire fastens his or her teeth on the throat of a victim like a panther does (it waits for its victim to suffocate).
Not all vampires are alike, in the same sense that not all film directors are alike. I haven’t seen that many vampire films, but the ones that had the most impact on me are Nosferatu (1922, F. W. Murnau), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992, Francis Ford Coppola), and Let the Right One In (2008, Tomas Alfredson). I would also include this film by the Iranian-American director, Ana Lily Amirpour.
In this film, the vampire is an attractive woman in her twenties – not a pale and lifeless aristocrat who is too effete to withstand sunlight. For an ordinary modern setting Amirpour found a small town near Bakersfield where the oil pumps are in perpetual motion – something like the pumping of a heart where the blood of a modern country is oil. (When the U.S. invaded Iraq there were protest signs saying NO BLOOD FOR OIL.)
In her film the streets are deserted like a neutron bomb went off. It is a neighborhood on the outskirts of town where the oil is more refined than the mortals who are trying to survive in a mechanical world. The characters speak Farsi, with the story set in Iran. The life depicted is rather sordid, especially for a religious country (there is heroin and prostitution, along with lethal necking). A woman walks alone at night in a long black veil. A chador reminds Amirpour of a bat, a vampire. The shroud is to protect the modesty of women, although it looks like they’re in mourning. Some regard it as a method of repression. In this case it hides a vampire with morbid eyeliner (known as the Girl). She is like a raven who shows up at your door in a chador while saying “Nevermore.”
A relationship develops between her and a young man. When they meet he is in an altered state and wearing a fake Dracula costume, having been to a party. She could kill him or kiss him. Being lonely she opts for the latter.
A woman walks alone at night in a long black veil. A chador reminds Amirpour of a bat, a vampire… She is like a raven who shows up at your door in a chador while saying “Nevermore.”
Amirpour was not trying to make a statement about oppressed women, although the Girl takes revenge on a drug-dealing pimp who abuses women. “…[I]t’s really about loneliness. A vampire is the loneliest, most isolated cut-off type of creature” (LA Times). It is also about the hidden power of some women. A man should enter into a relationship with a woman with the care and respect he would give to taking a powerful hallucinogen, because it will push him to extremes and put him through some changes. It reminds me of women with a hidden dimension which comes out onstage – whether singing or acting. I saw Young Marble Giants in a deconsecrated church around 1980 and after their set the singer walked by me and I was struck with what a magnified presence she had onstage (accompanied by amplifiers) compared to how she was offstage. And it took the ferocious intellect of Camille Paglia to undermine the mild aura of Emily Dickinson by referring to her as a lesbian vampire (Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, 1990). She had a lot more to say about Dickinson, and by the end of the chapter I saw the New England spinster from a more vital, disconcerting, and morbid angle than before.
I think it’s interesting how a film resonates with some people and not with others, especially reviewers. Our brains are wired differently, and some may not identify with certain elements in a film. I lived in San Pedro, California during my second year of college, and would drive past an immense oil refinery every night like a fairyland of eerie vapors and electric lights. I’m used to seeing oil pumps (known as nodding donkeys) moving up and down in parts of Los Angeles. The few Iranian-American women I have known are intelligent and accomplished and they make it all the harder to listen to politicians who want to attack Iran (primarily for Israel). I have walked the streets alone at night and fallen for an older dark-haired woman. I have seen a lot of black and white films, some of them with many shades of grey. One of those was Citizen Kane, which I like but Ms. Amirpour doesn’t. Others were gangster films, which I think she likes.
Amirpour wrote the script in black and white and that’s how the film turned out, as stylized as the vintage sports car owned by the man who falls for the Girl with sharp teeth. The film has one of the more poetically finessed endings that I’ve seen in a while and it takes place in the car. There is a cat, the death of the man’s father (an addict), and the man’s hesitation when he realizes the woman he is in love with has the power of life and death. That is more disconcerting than going out with a woman who makes more than you do.
So be careful. A female vampire has something in common with vagina dentata. In both cases it is probably a bad date.
Watch the trailer for A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night: