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Grief, Guilt, and Dysfunctional Family Dynamics: Exploring Interview with the Vampire

When Anne Rice’s novel Interview with the Vampire was published in 1976, the vampire’s image would forever be altered. Rice’s debut is a page-turner, and every chapter develops the story deeper. The book’s pages are filled with rich, poetic prose, philosophical musings and debates, and good old relationship drama. Rice’s story explores vampires as having a society that exists beside the human world. They’re depicted as having human flaws and feelings. At the center of her tale is a dysfunctional relationship between vampires who live as a dysfunctional family unit: Louis, Lestat, and Claudia.

The story is told from Louis’ perspective to a character only referred to as the “boy interviewer,” who Louis meets in a bar in present day (1976) San Francisco. His story begins during the late 18th century Louisiana. At the time of his transformation, Louis was the 24-year-old owner of a large indigo plantation, Point du Lac, in Louisiana. Louis lived with his mother, sister, and his brother, Paul (his mother and sister aren’t named). Paul is described as devoutly religious. One night, Louis and Paul have a confrontation when Paul tells him that he had a vision. Paul tells Louis that the Virgin Mary came to him and told him that he was destined to become a great religious leader. He tells Louis that he needs to sell the plantation. Louis refuses and storms out of the room. After he leaves, Paul falls down a flight of steps and dies. Louis blames himself for Paul’s death and sinks into depression. One night, while walking home, he’s attacked by a vampire and left for dead. Shortly after, as Louis confined to bed and sick, the vampire, Lestat, comes to him and offers him a different life. Louis takes the offer, not understanding exactly what he’s getting into.

Louis immediately dislikes Lestat. Their conflict begins as soon as Louis begins his transformation. Louis is dazzled by how different the world looks after his transformation. Lestat scolds him as if he were a child. Louis recalls: “He might have calmed me and told me I might watch my death with the same fascination with which I had watched and felt the night.” [1]

Two young men stand close young men, appearing in 18th century style hair and dress. One looks off in the distance as the other looks intensely at him as if about to say something.
Lestat (Tom Cruise) tries to counsel Louis (Brad Pitt) on how to hunt humans in Interview with the Vampire (1994). Much to Lestat’s dismay, Louis doesn’t have the heart to kill. Like a mismatched human couple, they’re doomed from the start.

The two are very different personalities and embark on a co-dependent relationship of convenience. Lestat is aggressive, domineering, impulsive, verbally abusive, vain, and materialistic. Louis is sensitive, intuitive, introspective and empathetic with a love of literature, philosophy, and art.
“He had impeccable taste, though my library to him was a ‘pile of dust,’ and he seemed more than once to be infuriated by the sight of my reading a book or writing some observations in a journal. ‘That’s mortal nonsense,’ he would say to me, while at the same time spending so much of my money to splendidly furnish Pointe du Lac, that even I, who cared nothing for money, was forced to wince.” [2]

Whenever Louis says that he would like to leave, Lestat reminds him that he doesn’t yet know how to survive as a vampire but offers him no knowledge about it. Withholding information is a way for Lestat to keep Louis under his control. Louis says that he realized Lestat’s reason for making him a vampire in the first place was because Lestat wanted his money.

Lestat has his elderly, blind father move into Louis’ house with him. While Louis knows that Lestat is using him for his money, he realizes that he has something on Lestat—knowledge of finances. Louis knows how to invest money to multiply their finances. Lestat can charm and con people out of their money but doesn’t know what to do with it. Neither one could survive without the other.

The situation between Louis and Lestat is very relatable. Lestat needs a place for him and his father to live. Lestat is a typical gold-digger and is very much the predator that he prides himself as being throughout the novel. He manages to single out the perfect victim—someone sensitive and grieving. Lestat wanted Louis for his money and had the perfect way to get Louis. What better way to manipulate someone into giving you what you want than by giving them what you assume anybody would want—immortality

Louis makes an impulsive decision because of his vulnerable state of mind. Louis enters unknown territory. Lestat doesn’t “groom” him, and there is no “honeymoon” period. He offers no details about vampirism to Louis before his transformation. He offers him no details after. Keeping Louis ignorant is Lestat’s way of making Louis depend on him.

Louis sends his mother and sister to live in their townhouse in New Orleans. They don’t know anything about what’s going on. Louis maintains contact with them but at a distance. After the enslaved people at Point du Lac become suspicious of Louis and Lestat and Lestat’s father dies, Louis sets fire to the plantation. The following night, Louis and Lestat rent a room in a New Orleans hotel. Their first night there, Lestat provokes an argument. Lestat is frustrated by Louis’ refusal to take human life and goes to extremely dramatic lengths to get Louis to see his perspective.

Louis wakes one evening to find Lestat with two women—one he feeds on, and the other he terrorizes. He kills them both. Louis tells him that he respects life more as a vampire. Lestat says, “You are like an adult who, looking back on his childhood, realizes that he never appreciated it. You cannot, as a man, go back to the nursery and play with your toys, asking for the love and care to be showered on you simply because you now know their worth.” [3]

He expounds on his views by saying, “Vampires are killers […] Predators. Whose all-seeing eyes are meant to give them detachment. The ability to see a human life in its entirety, not with any mawkish sorrow but with a thrilling satisfaction and being the end of that life, and having a hand in the divine plan.” [4]

Louis tells Lestat that he can leave him and find another vampire. Lestat tells him that vampires are by nature lone predators, and the only time other vampires will have someone with them or live in a group is out of fear with one vampire serving as a slave to the other.

In an extremely harsh way, Lestat tries to make Louis realize that his sensitivity towards humans is what’s making him suffer. When Louis mentions leaving him, Lestat uses Louis’s ignorance of the vampire world against him in an all-too-familiar attempt at manipulation through instilling fear in him.

Lestat’s next great move towards manipulating his partner is also unfortunately familiar in the human world—“having a child” to bind his partner to him.

Louis storms out of the hotel and feeds on a five-year-old girl. Lestat finds him with her, and Louis runs away again. The following night, Lestat and Louis find the girl, Claudia, at a hospital. Lestat convinces hospital staff that he’s her father, and the two take her back to the hotel. Louis feeds off her, and Lestat feeds her his blood to transform her.

A little girl with a thick mass of golden blonde curls and extremely pale face looks into the camera.
Anne Rice explores what would happen if a child were made a vampire with her character, Claudia (Kirsten Dunst). Lestat uses Louis’s affection for Claudia as another way to manipulate him.

After he makes Claudia a vampire, Lestat tells her: “‘Now, Louis was going to leave us […] He was going to go away. But now he’s not. Because he wants to stay and take care of you and make you happy.’ He looked at me. ‘You’re not going are you, Louis?'” [5] Lestat uses Louis’s instant affection for her to manipulate him.

“I gathered her into my coffin every morning and would not let her out of my sight with him if possible. This is what Lestat wanted, and he gave little suggestions that he might do her harm. ‘A starving child is a frightful sight,’ he said to me, ‘a starving vampire even worse.’ They’d hear her screams in Paris, he said, were he to lock her away to die. But all this was meant for me, to draw me close and keep me there.” [6]

Lestat and Louis step into the roles of parents. Lestat takes Claudia under his wing but only teaches her the basics of vampire life. As a child with little to no experience, she accepts this and embraces vampire nature. He even brings her to cemeteries to show her plague victims—to show her death. Lestat tells her that they will never die but must not hesitate to bring death because it’s how they live.

With Claudia as part of his life, Louis finally starts to kill humans. Perhaps Claudia is filling a gap in Louis’s life, making it possible for him to feed on humans, or perhaps he reluctantly pushes himself to do it. Seeing himself now as a father, perhaps this is Louis’s attempt at keeping peace in the family or a way to maintain a cohesive family unit.

Louis steps into the role of a parent in his own way. As Lestat teaches Claudia to kill, Louis teaches her to appreciate the world around her—literature, music, and theater. “And all this time I was educating Claudia, whispering in her tiny seashell ear that our eternal life was useless to us if we did not see the beauty around us, the creation of mortals everywhere.” [7] They raise Claudia the way a human couple would raise a child. Both Louis and Lestat are at odds with each other, and each tries to “mold” her with their own perspective the way that human parents do. Lestat, the dominant and proud vampire, wants Claudia to focus on that side of herself. Louis wants to instill in her respect for humans.

While Claudia doesn’t grow physically, she grows psychologically and intellectually. At this point, Rice explores the concept of an adult mind in a child’s body. Also, we are faced with the question of how growing up as a vampire would possibly affect Claudia in terms of how she would relate to humans. Being made a vampire at such a young age, would Claudia feel any connection at all to humans? Louis recalls: “Yet more and more her doll-like face seemed to possess two totally aware adult eyes, and innocence seemed lost somewhere with neglected toys and the loss of a certain patience.” [8]

Like a human child in adolescence, Claudia begins to become withdrawn, especially from Lestat. Lestat has his own attachment to Claudia as the dominant parent that enjoys seeing his reflection in Claudia as a hunter and predator who knows how to “play” humans. Claudia, like a human adolescent, develops her own mind and will. In real life, it seems that parents struggle to mold their children into miniature versions of themselves. Adolescence kicks in, and a child begins to develop their own ideas about things. Louis is the nurturing parent while Lestat is authoritarian and demanding.

Domineering Lestat won’t be ignored. Lestat becomes so frustrated with her ignoring him that he lunges at her and threatens to slap her. One night, Claudia demands to know which one of them made her the way that she is and how it was done. To this, Lestat erupts into a rage, ending by telling Claudia, “Be glad I made you what you are. Or I’ll break you into a thousand pieces.” [9] Lestat’s control over Louis and Claudia depends on their ignorance of the vampire world. Imparting knowledge, in Lestat’s eyes, is to relinquish control.

Two young men and a little girl are standing together outdoors at night. All three wear 19th century dress.
One big unhappy family. Lestat (Tom Cruise, right) is the manipulative and abusive partner to Louis (Brad Pitt) and father to Claudia (Kirsten Dunst). Claudia clings to Louis, the more nurturing and protective parent, in Interview with the Vampire (1994).

Louis shows her the house where he found her. He tells her about the night she was made a vampire. He tells her how Lestat urged him to finish her off and how then Lestat fed her his blood. Claudia says, “And here it is. […] And I hate you both!” [10]

As a vampire, Claudia naturally feels like an outsider to the human world surrounding her. As she develops her own mind, she wonders why she can’t grow into an adult. Claudia feels that Louis and Lestat took this chance from her, and she’s angry. She also feels betrayed—she’s been lied to.

After Louis tells Claudia his life story, she forgives him and says: “I have no human nature. And no short story of a mother’s corpse and hotel rooms where children learn monstrosity can give me one. I have none […] He made me then […] to be your companion. No chains could have held you in your loneliness, and he could give you nothing. He gives you nothing […] I used to think him charming. I liked the way he walked, the way he tapped the flagstones with his walking stick and swung me in his arms. And the abandon with which he killed, which was as I felt. But I no longer find him charming. And you never have. And we’ve been his puppets, you and I; you remaining to take care of him, and I your saving companion. Now’s time to end it, Louis. Now’s time to leave him.” [11]

These sentiments could be expressed by anyone in a situation in which they’re being manipulated and controlled. Claudia develops a strong will and a defiant personality kind of like her vampire father, Lestat. Claudia also demonstrates adult sensibilities in that she understands Lestat’s relationship with Louis. She sees Lestat for what he is and resents him because of the way he controls her and Louis.

Louis begins to make plans to leave for Europe. He plans on telling Lestat that he and Claudia are only going on a short trip and leaving him with a large sum of money. Like in real life, Lestat is unsatisfied with his spouse and turns to someone else. Lestat befriends a musician. Louis had seen Lestat play with victims by befriending them before, but Lestat’s courtship with this young man lasted longer than usual. Lestat takes him to expensive restaurants and buys him paper and pens for writing his music.

Claudia attempts to kill Lestat by serving him up two boys to whom she’s given absinthe and laudanum, which “poisons” their blood. Their blood incapacitates Lestat, and she slits his throat. Angry and disgusted by Claudia’s actions, Louis reluctantly helps her dump his body in the swamp.

Louis is the more passive of the two. He dislikes Lestat and sees him for what he is but is willing to tolerate him. Louis comes off as sensitive and unsure of himself. Claudia points out that she didn’t live a fully human life like Louis did. She didn’t have time to develop insecurities before her transformation. Being a vampire since early childhood, Claudia doesn’t have many insecurities or empathy for humans the way Louis does.

He forgives Claudia. She tells him that she killed Lestat so that they could be free. Louis wants to go to Europe to explore his French roots. Claudia wants to go seeking what she refers to as her “own kind.” Claudia referring to finding other vampires as finding her own kind makes Louis realize that she has less of a connection to humanity than he thought: “Not the faintest conception bound her to the sympathies of human existence. Perhaps, this explained why—despite everything I had done or failed to do—she clung to me. I was not her own kind. Merely the closest thing to it.” [12]

There’s a disconnect between her and Louis, and a loss of trust. Louis has seen Claudia commit the ultimate act of betrayal. Like any parent of a child who’s committed a horrible act, he’s conflicted.

Lestat returns with another vampire—his musician friend. Louis fights with Lestat and Claudia fights the other vampire. Chaos ensues and lanterns break, setting their house on fire. Claudia and Louis escape.

A close-up of a pale man with intense eyes sits in front of a burning candle.
Louis believes he’s found an attentive and responsive partner in Armand (Antonio Banderas).

In Paris, Louis and Claudia meet up with the vampire Armand and the Theatre Des Vampires. Louis is horrified yet drawn into the “show.” The vampires perform a skit with a vampire named Santiago as the central player, dressed as the Grim Reaper with a fake scythe, dark robe, and skull mask. Louis admits to being both repulsed and aroused as a human girl is terrorized and consumed by the vampires.

Afterward, Armand invites him beneath the theater to an underground chamber. The two engage in a philosophical discussion on the nature of good and evil. Louis feels that vampires are pure evil—the children of Satan. Armand responds with a very logical response that Louis isn’t used to. How could there be children of Satan if Satan himself is a child of God? Therefore, if a person believes that all creation comes from God, there can be no children of Satan. When Louis tells Armand that he believes he’s as evil as any vampire, Armand questions and challenges him and tells him that there are levels of evil and good just as there are gradations of good.

Louis begins to feel a connection to Armand. He had spent so many years with an abusive partner. Although he doesn’t agree with Armand, he experiences an instant connection. Armand, unlike Lestat and Claudia, challenges Louis without dismissive or insulting comments or with heated debate or sarcasm. Armand is listening. Louis finds himself expressing thoughts that he never realized he had.

“[…] they were my most profound feelings taking a shape they could never have taken had I not spoken them, had I thought them out this way in conversation with another. I thought myself then possessed of a passive mind, in a sense. I mean that my mind could only pull itself together, formulate thought out of the middle of longing and pain, when it was touched by another mind, fertilized by it, deeply excited by that other mind, and driven to form conclusions. I felt now the rarest, most acute alleviation of loneliness.” [13]

Louis thinks that he hated Lestat for the wrong reasons. He resented Lestat because he believes that he was purposely withholding knowledge. Armand tells him that there isn’t any knowledge.

Louis and Claudia dislike the rest of the theater vampires. Louis refers to them as a “conformist club.” They are a reflection of human society with their own aesthetic and rules that, like humans, are enforced through bullying and intimidation. The group let Claudia and Louis know that to kill another vampire is a crime among them.

A woman stands behind a man with a little girl clinging to him nervously. Another man stands with his back to the camera in the foreground.
Louis (Brad Pitt) and Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) finally meet other vampires and aren’t too pleased to meet them in Interview with the Vampire (1994).

Back at their hotel room, Claudia tells Louis that Armand was communicating to her, wordlessly, telling her that he wanted Louis to himself and that she needed to die. She adds that the other vampires know that she killed Lestat. Completely infatuated with Armand, Louis refuses to believe that Armand would ever harm Claudia. This is the reaction most people have when infatuated with someone and confronted with any negative comments about them. Armand also offers the promise of the connection that Louis always wanted.

As Louis gets closer to Armand, Claudia develops a mother-daughter relationship with a woman who owns a doll shop, Madeleine. When he returns to the hotel room, Claudia and Madeleine are waiting for him. She orders him to give Madeleine to her. Claudia tells him that Armand wants him to himself. She needs Madeleine in order to survive on her own. Louis comes around and makes Madeleine a vampire.

Like any child in a dysfunctional family, Claudia is eager to leave the nest. In real life, sometimes children in dysfunctional families will marry or jump into a relationship with the first person who comes along. Being in the body of a child, Claudia must settle on Madeleine. Madeleine had a daughter that died and sees Claudia as a replacement. Claudia sees that Louis wants to be with Armand. Louis is like a divorced parent with an adult child. He wants to move on and build a new relationship. However, Armand doesn’t want to be Claudia’s stepfather. Claudia sees the situation for what it is. Armand doesn’t accept her and wants her out if the picture.

Afterward, he tells Claudia that now they are even. He tells Claudia that what died that night was not Madeleine but the last of his humanity. He sees himself as responsible for not only Madeleine’s damnation but the death of all of her victims. Louis spirals down into self-loathing. He says he’s indifferent to Claudia and Madeleine. Madeleine embraces vampirism to be with Claudia.

The theater vampires eventually storm Louis and Claudia’s hotel room and take them back to the theater. Louis is locked in a coffin and walled up in the theater. He’s saved by Armand and finds Claudia and Madeleine have been burned to ash.

Louis tells Armand, “That passivity in me has been the core of it all, the real evil. That weakness, that refusal to compromise a fractured and stupid morality, that awful pride! For that, I let myself become the thing I am when I knew it was wrong. For that, I let Claudia become the vampire she became when I knew it was wrong. For that, I stood by and let her kill Lestat, when I knew that was wrong, the very thing that was her undoing. I lifted not a finger to prevent it. And Madeleine, Madeleine, I let her come to that when I should never have made her a creature like ourselves. I knew that was wrong! Well, I tell you I am no longer that passive, weak creature that has spun evil from evil till the web is vast and thick while I remain its stultified victim. It’s over!” [14]

Louis is acknowledging that he had control over the situation the whole time, and it was his refusal to take control that led to the current situation.

Louis goes back to the theater and sets it on fire. Eventually, he and Armand embark on a trip around the world. Louis never feels the same again. He lacks the quality that attracted Armand. After Claudia’s death, Louis decided to accept life in death for what it was and not to torture himself for any answers.

His relationship with Armand isn’t what he thought it would be. When he sees Armand for the last time, the two are in America, shortly before Louis’s trip to San Francisco where he crosses paths with the boy interviewer. Armand tells Louis that he never again was the vampire he met so long ago in Paris at the theater. Louis’s passion, the emotion that drew Armand to him, was gone. Not only does Armand admit that he was responsible for Claudia’s death but also that he was hoping Louis would see Lestat. Armand thought that seeing Lestat would stir up hatred and rage in Louis, but it didn’t. In a way, Armand is as manipulative as Lestat. He loves and wants Louis to keep a part of him that impedes his development. He wants Louis to remain broken for his own twisted reasons. He just as manipulative and calculated as Lestat. Armand just goes about it in a different way. The two go their separate ways.

Louis found Lestat in the same apartment that they lived in with Claudia as a family. The place was in disrepair, and a young vampire was with him. Lestat is feeding on animals and has the demeanor of an elderly mortal man. Louis doesn’t feel hatred but pity for Lestat. Lestat asks Louis to stay, but he refuses. There’s too much between them to go back. They were never right for each other in the first place. Louis makes the wise choice not to go down that road again. He’s decided to quit looking to other people for answers and to rely on himself.

Anne Rice’s classic Interview with the Vampire depicts vampires as more human. Vampires form a dysfunctional family unit. The dynamics are unfortunately all too familiar as Lestat attempts to control through bullying and intimidation, among other tactics. Rice’s tale resonates with people who could see themselves or people that they know in the characters. She made vampires relatable, likable, and exciting. She created a story where vampires don’t become mindless monsters but retain their human personalities, and each deals with immortality in their own way.

Works Cited

[1] Rice, Anne. (1976) Interview with the Vampire. Knopf. New York, N.Y., p. 17-18

[2] Rice, p. 29

[3] Rice, p.65

[4] Rice, p. 66

[5] Rice, p. 75

[6] Rice, p. 77-78

[7] Rice, p. 80

[8] Rice, p. 81

[9] Rice, p . 87

[10] Rice, p. 92

[11] Rice, p. 94

[12] Rice, p. 119

[13] Rice, p. 189

[14] Rice, p. 245

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Written by MD Bastek

I'm just a being who writes about unusual things.

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