Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Theology of 'Daybreakers'

daybreakers The movie Daybreakers is a fresh take on the vampire mythology based on an interesting premise and is possible of evoking all sorts of thematic considerations.

Across the globe, humans have "turned" to become vampires desperate to live forever. But, of course, the more vampires there are the less humans are available for blood. And now the shortage has become a crisis. A large corporation has been harvesting human blood by capturing them and hooking them up to machines that drain it. This blood, because of the shortage, is being sold at premium prices. And the research is on to try to invent a synthetic blood when the true thing runs out. The hematologist working on the project is sympathetic to humans and motivates his research on the synthetic blood. However, he meets someone who has found a way to convert back from vampire to human which changes his view on finding a solution to the blood shortage. His changed views place him at odds with the corporation for whom money, rather than human value, is clearly the main aim.

Light vs Darkness

One of the obvious themes in any vampire story is the way vampires have to spend their lives in darkness. Any exposure to light and they risk being  consumed by light and exploding to a permanent finality of unconscious death.
The Christian tradition often links light to the presence of God and, specifically, to the entrance of Jesus Christ into the world. Jesus is described as a light that judges those who live in darkness.
"... this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
Other traditions also have much to say about light which often represents the light of knowledge or truth. In colloquial language we often declare, when coming to a realisation of something, that we have 'seen the light'!
It is not hard to see the relationship between the themes of light and darkness in vampire mythology. The vampire is not truly alive but "lives" a life of fear and avoidance of the reality of the light. When the light touches them, they recoil in horror at the potential to be destroyed by that light.
The philosopher Laurens van der Post describes the way in which,
[i]n a profound sense every man has two halves to his being; he is not one person so much as two persons trying to act in unison.  I believe that in the heart of each human being there is something which I can only describe as a "child of darkness" who is equal and complementary to the more obvious "child of light."
From a Christian perspective, humans have been "bitten" and "turned" — by nature they are children of darkness. We naturally run from the light because it exposes reality for what it is and that reality is not pretty! Outside of Christian traditions, it is common to conceive of humans as having a dark side. If we are to be truly human again we need to consider the next theme I see in Daybreakers — the need to come into the light to be healed.

Light as a means of healing
I don't want to say too much about this theme in the movie as it will spoil a significant element of the plot for those who haven't seen it yet. Suffice it to say that, in the story, exposure to the light of the sun turns out to be significant in a way that is unexpected. Light as a means to healing is a very common theme, particularly in a large proportion of new age and gnostic perspectives.

In a Christian theological sense, to be fully human we must allow ourselves to be completely exposed to the light of Jesus Christ. Because of what Jesus has done for us in making it safe to come into the presence of God, we are able to endure the consuming light of God's presence which makes us fully human again. To come into the light exposes reality for what it is and allows an honest evaluation of where we are on our life journey.

In addition to light being a means of exposure, it is also often seen as a means of healing. The Greek god, Apollos, was associated with the sun and healing. Astrid Alauda has aptly described the sun as 'nature's Prozac'.
In essence, to be healed means we must confront the very thing that may, at first glance, be that which may harm us and which we may fear. But we need to let go and bask in that which brings healing and regeneration.

The need for death to live fully

One of the most intriguing questions raised by Daybreakers is the role of death in the human capacity to live life fully. The vampires' achievement of immortality does not necessarily bring happiness. In many religions, including the Christian, there is an assumption that the ideal life is one that is lived forever. But a non-ending life may have unexpected consequences.

A core proposition of Daybreakers is that unending existence may, in fact, completely undermine the joy of living and render the the pursuit of fulfillment a life of quiet desperation (to use Henry Thoreau's potent phrase). One meaning of eternal is 'exceedingly great or bad; -- used as a strong intensive.' (

In other words, maybe eternal life has more to do with the intensity of goodness experienced rather than the length of time. The Daybreakers story postulates that death is necessary if humans are to experience living with the intensity of experience that brings joy in the present. An everlasting life may, in fact, undermine the motivation required to live life to the full. An interesting idea!

For Christians, Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of  all of these themes. It is Jesus who has come into the world and exposed the darkness; it is Jesus who brings healing and makes us new creatures; and it is Jesus who brings true life that overcomes death. Jesus is the ultimate Daybreaker!
— Steve Parker