115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Undead Queens of Berlin: Vampirism and Gender Politics in Dennis Gansel's Wir sind die Nacht

Kai-Uwe Werbeck, University of North Carolina, Charlotte

This paper queries the problematic gender politics in Dennis Gansel's German Wir sind die Nacht (2010), a modern vampire movie set in Berlin in which the powerful and independent female vampires pose a threat that--as the film suggests--has to be contained.

Proposal: 

After the long-dormant German horror film had arguably been jump-started by Stefan Ruzowitzky’s highly-successful slasher Anatomy (2000), the German film-industry has produced a slew of genre movies that adapted popular international horror tropes, from zombies to vampires, over the last 15 years. Interested in these German contributions to distinctively global pop-culture phenomena, my presentation looks at Dennis Gansel’s glitzy vampire-movie Wir sind die Nacht (We are the Night; 2010),set in the strobe-light filled underground clubs of Berlin. Produced on a comparatively high budget and featuring some of Germany’s biggest stars, Gansel’s effort is a clear attempt to recalibrate the vampire myth and revive the haunted screens of the Weimar Republic for the new millennium.

Wir sind die Nacht follows four female vampires who live their undead lives in Germany’s post-Wall capital, a city presented as a hedonistic party-wonderland in which ostensibly anything goes. At the same time emulating and challenging the vampire master narratives of the 21st century—and here in particular the immensely popular and squeaky clean Twilight-saga—Gansel, I argue, engages with Berlin’s self-perpetuating myth as sub-cultural playground into which he unleashes his powerful protagonists as the supernatural “Other,” a heavily gendered departure from most classic blood-sucker narratives.

The three vampires, Louise, Charlotte, and Nora, traverse Berlin on their own terms. They act recklessly and manipulatively, and are presented as financially independent. Initially, the film celebrates their lavish life-style and focuses on Louise’s desperate search for eternal love, with Charlotte and Nora apparently being failed earlier attempts. When Louise meets Lena—an androgynous working class girl and part-time pickpocket—she believes to have found her soulmate once again. Lena is then bitten and turned by Louise. The situation soon spins out control when Lena realizes that she has to kill people to sustain her own un-life and falls in love with Tom, a cop with whom she had to deal before. Things take a turn from bad to the worse when Nora and Charlotte end up dead for good and Louise fights Lena after the former threatens to hurt Tom. Eventually Lena wins and kills Louise, the ending insinuating that she may have turned Tom into a male vampire, the first—as the movie establishes early on—in a very long time.

While Wir sind die Nacht starts out as a story of female empowerment, it quickly begins equating feminism (and also lesbianism) with vampirism. The film’s final act kills off its independent female characters, whose supernatural powers—it intimates—can eventually only lead to destruction or reentry into the nuclear (albeit potentially parasitic) family. The demise of the three vampires—as they are punished for their perceived transgressions—and Lena’s eventual return to a more conservative and heteronormative paradigm, I claim, suggests that even a presumably progressive place such as Berlin cannot contain such ‘fantastic’ creatures.

 

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