Byzantium

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Byzantium Movie Poster Image
Blood, innuendo in stylish, moody vampire tale.
  • R
  • 2013
  • 118 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages
The movie is about telling the truth to lead a more fulfilling life, even though lies are more protective. In a subplot, the movie celebrates fighting for what you believe is right, rather than following long-established rules that may be wrong. On the downside, "wrongdoers" are often killed.
Positive Role Models & Representations
There are two interesting female characters, though neither is truly a strong role models (both are vampires). The mother figure is tough and resourceful, but she stoops to prostitution to earn money, and she kills those she deems "bad" or "evil." Her daughter is a talented writer and musician who demonstrates the power of patience and practice, though she's very socially withdrawn. For her food, she kills only older people who are ready to die.
Violence
Lots of bloody vampire violence. Here, vampires slice their victims not with fangs, but with a sharp fingernail that grows when needed. There's a great deal of blood, lots of killing, and several dead bodies (including charred and rotted corpses). Two characters are beheaded with a wire. One character -- who takes an anti-coagulant -- gets a cut on his wrist and bleeds profusely. There are also some intense moments of fighting and punching, as well as arguing. In one sequence, several waterfalls turn blood-red (though it looks more like colored water than blood).
Sex
Several of the supporting characters are prostitutes, and the main character is shown to have been one previously. No nudity, but characters wear revealing clothing throughout, such as lingerie and fishnets. Partly naked bottoms and lots of cleavage are on display. Sex acts -- a lap dance, oral sex, etc. -- are begun and/or suggested but not fully shown. Some strong sexual innuendo.
Language
Language isn't constant but does include a few uses of strong words including "f--k," "c--t," "s--t," "c--k," and "bitch."
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
It's suggested that some of the supporting prostitute characters are "high" or on drugs, though they're never shown taking anything, and nothing is ever mentioned out loud. They just act sleepy and dopey.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Byzantium is artier and moodier than most vampire movies. It's not particularly for either the I Am Legend crowd or Twilight lovers, but fans of Let the Right One In may enjoy it. Vampire violence is strong, with great gushes of blood, killings, and dead bodies; two characters are beheaded. Several minor characters are prostitutes, and a major character used to be one as well. There's no nudity, but there are many sexual situations and plenty of innuendo and revealing outfits. Byzantium suggests that the prostitutes are addicted to drugs, though it does this solely through body language; no drugs are shown or mentioned. Language is sparse but does include a few uses of "f--k," "s--t," and more. 

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What's the story?

When Clara (Gemma Arterton) and her daughter, Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), are discovered to be vampires, they're forced to move -- again. They've been doing this for two centuries. Their new home, a dilapidated hotel, looks promising, especially since Clara can make money with a prostitution ring. But when Eleanor meets a strange, tender young man, Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), she decides she wants to stop running and tell someone the truth for a change. She tries to write a story about her history, but unfortunately, her mother has never told her an important part of it. And that part -- a kind of vampire cop called Darvell (Sam Riley) -- is hot on Clara's trail.

Is it any good?

Director Neil Jordan's films have a moody, patient, quiet quality that, even if it can't cover up for weak or ordinary material, enhances his best work. That characteristic definitely lends itself to non-realistic and supernatural subjects like The Company of Wolves, Interview with the Vampire, and the romantic Ondine. BYZANTIUM likewise works because of this style, and although it doesn't exactly reinvent the genre, it least offers a fresh, reflective take.
 
The movie is definitely gory, but Jordan focuses more on the moods and textures of vampirism. A dropped, blood-soaked handkerchief becomes an object of allure, more so than any flesh-and-blood victim. Various potent physical spaces, especially the seaside, reflect the characters' innermost emotions. Jordan also relishes the physical touch of skin, both erotic and violent. Certainly many viewers will bemoan a certain lack of romance in this approach, but for the adventurous, Byzantium is a lovely thing of dark poetry.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the vampire violence in Byzantium. How does it compare to other vampire movies? Why is there more blood here? What does it symbolize?
  • What's the draw of vampire movies? Are they all intended to appeal to the same audience?
  • Is Byzantium scary? What is it about vampires that's scary -- or not scary?
  • Why does Eleanor decide to tell her story? Why is storytelling so powerful? Why is telling the truth more powerful than telling lies?

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