Author Jean Rhys born in the Commonwealth of Dominica of Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) and Quartet (1928) constructed the term soucriant using the witch vampire Caribbean folklore nomenclature of soucouyant. According to legend, a soucouyant “lives by day as an old woman at the end of the village. By night, however, she strips off her wrinkled skin, puts it in a mortar, and flies in the shape of a fireball through the darkness, looking for a victim. Still in the shape of a fireball, the soucouyant enters the home of her victim through the keyhole or any crack or crevice.” Playwright and screenwriter to Byzantium, Moira Buffini seemed to hark upon Rhys uncanny ability to trace the inner despair and entrapment particularly of the female variety. In doing so, Byzantium intermixed Gothic sensibilities found in Jane Austen‘s (b. 1775- d. 1817) Northanger Abbey and novels by Charles Dickens (b. 1812- d. 1870). These women’s plight drearily echoes the atmosphere in the referenced literary selection.
Storytelling weaves the vampire thread into the cinematic production, but the manner in which reliable sources retrace the timeline stirred emotional connections to these outcasts.
Opening the film, buxom and gorgeous Clara (Gemma Arterton) shimmies and dips into a hungry man’s eager lap in a strip-club. In reaction to the lustful patron’s unauthorized grabbing, she manages to bloody his nose in her escape. Fiery and without scruples in thieving the bar’s till, her intended trek home is interrupted by a pale, blond man whose accelerated pursuit of Clara demonstrates a physical strength unexpected and beyond human limits. On the surface momentarily, he has Clara captured and inquires about her keep Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan). Clara is protecting someone unknown to audiences still. She beheads the oppressor, informs Eleanor about leaving the area, and without much hesitation torches the flat. Eleanor’s response echoes and laments at another change of venue. Memory and mirage foretell a biography unspoken and hidden in Eleanor. Even while existing in modern times, she labors in 19th century cursive manuscript Clara’s history and casts them into the wind in crumbled pages fearing what this information can unsettle.
Eleanor strolls the night in solitude while Clara uses her overt sexuality for money and lodgings. Her interaction with these clients shows an expertise that solidifies knowledge that years of experience had been garnered. Clara reports that Eleanor is her sister and recounts for sympathy Eleanor’s orphanage background to the latest mark. Eleanor rebels against fabrications whose truth communicates absurdity to the listeners thus validating the easier tale by Clara. Eleanor’s words are viewed within a psychological framework whose acceptance for the most part rely on men. The personality juxtaposition between Clara and Eleanor enrich the film. Their fights belie love and kinship. Being hunted in every neighborhood in the simple sense of special detectives, but also prey for men’s sexual appetites marginalizes and strengthens their bond.
The past remains afoul on Clara and Eleanor. The missing pieces begin to align in how and why present day Clara and Eleanor behave in a skillful manner that shall remain absent from disclosure here. Do keep in mind that humor is not absent from this work, and it is a testament to Moira Buffini and director Neil Jordan at the marvelous masterpiece they have sired.