In this paper, I will be exploring race, ethnicity, and sexuality as portrayed in the film Underworld and further elaborated in its sequel Underworld Evolution. This science fiction/action/horror film while initially seeming only to focus on simple violence if one looks just a little deeper they learn how it can be a commentary on our past and perhaps even a statement on our future. (Please note anyone who wishes to see this movie beware because it has
“In the Underworld, Vampires are a secret clan of modern aristocratic sophisticates whose mortal enemies are the Lycans (werewolves), a shrewd gang of street thugs who prowl the city's underbelly. No one knows the origin of their bitter blood feud, but the balance of power between them turns even bloodier when a beautiful young Vampire warrior and a newly turned Lycan with a mysterious past fall in love. Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman star in this modern-day, action-packed tale of ruthless intrigue and forbidden passion all set against the dazzling backdrop of a timeless, Gothic metropolis.”(1) This is the synopsis taken directly from the Official Underworld site it seems simple predictable and straight forward and sadly loses its depth. To truly understand this movie you must start from the past and move forward.
I will start with a brief overview of the past so as not to obstruct the initial storyline. In the Underworld movie hundreds of years ago Alexander Corvinus was the only survivor of a virus that surged through his village. He was infected too but he did not die instead he was changed turned into an immortal. He then had two sons “One bit by bat and one by wolf” Marus and William respectively. These two brothers would become the first vampire and werewolf and would end up giving birth to these new races. A third son was also born; he was born human destined to walk the mortal path.
Shortly after these two races are born, the vampires soon dominate the werewolves turning them into slaves entrusted to guard their bodies as they slept during the day. During the middle Ages the werewolves, or Lycans as they are referred throughout the movie rise up against their vampire masters under the leadership of Lucian whom at the beginning of the movie is said to be "most feared and ruthless leader ever to rule the Lycan clan" but was apparently killed. With Lucian gone the Lycan strength began to disappear and the Deal Dealers, vampire agents, sought to continue their role of exterminating Lycans.
The movie opens with Selene (the character portrayed by Kate Beckinsale) a Death Dealer along with two compatriots hunting down a pair of Lycans. The Lycans led by Raze are hunting a human by the name of Michael Corvin. After following them into a subway station, the Lycans realize that they are being followed and a shootout ensues. With one of the Death Dealers killed via UV rounds.
Selene returns to her coven to speak with Kahn the head death dealer but was quickly rebuffed by Kraven saying it was nothing even when Selene reveals the UV rounds. While this is, going on Singe a Lycan scientist unsuccessfully seeks a match for the “Corvinus Strain” and decides to once again go after Michael.
Selene tracks down Michael to question him and the two of them are attacked by a horde of Lycans led by Lucian the feared Lycan leader whom was presumed dead. Michael is bitten and is taken by Selene (who is unaware that he has been bitten) back to her coven after they had escaped the Lycans. Lucian stores the blood sample in his mouth to be studied by Singe. Michael soon leaves the lair for his own safety after other vampires learn of his condition, that he will become a werewolf. Selene becomes suspicious of Kraven’s repeated attempts to silence her and decides to break vampire code and look back into history. She learns that the key battle that resulted in the fall of the Lycan uprising a group of Death Dealers attacked the Lycan fortress and the only survivor was Kraven who returned with Lucian’s branded skin the body “lost” in a fire. This new information fueled Selene’s belief that Kraven and Lucian were working together for their own ends. Pressured by this belief she used her blood to awaken Viktor an Elder Vampire and the Vampire who turned her.
Michael after he had escaped the coven seeks to get aide from his friend at the hospital only to be betrayed. He escapes again and attempts to meet with Selene. Selene drives out to meet Michael and tells him of the history between Vampires and Lycans and how now that he has been bitten he is now part of this war whether he likes it or not. At the Coven Kraven runs into Viktor. Viktor demands to know why he has been awakened in such a manner and then discovers that he has been awakened early "the Chain". The Chain is a cycle in which one elder is awake while the other two sleeps for a hundred years changing once that time has finished, has been broken and that Viktor has been awoken one hundred years before schedule.
Selene takes Michael to a safe house, while the Michael tells Selene of the nightmares he has been afflicted with ever since he had been bitten. Selene explains that these are memories transmitted from Lucian when he bit Michael. Selene then explains her hatred for Lycans when she discovered that a Lycan had killed her family only being driven off by Viktor who then gave her the chance to avenge her family's death. Another firefight breaks out and Michael is captured. Selene manages to capture Singe.
Back at the coven, Kraven is attempting to explain what had occurred when Selene enters the room bringing Singe. Singe is persuaded under duress to explain the Lycan plan to combine the bloodlines of the two species to create a hybrid that could then end the war. To complete that plan they needed a sample of the original virus as provided through the decedents of the third son of Alexander Corvinus, which was why they targeted Michael. Singe also reveals Kraven's involvement in the plan that he supported in hopes the Elders would be killed leaving him leader of all the Vampires. Once this information is revealed Kraven flees. Before the others notice he is gone Khan enters the room to inform Viktor that the Vampire council including Amelia who had been the active elder at the time returning to relinquish control back to Marcus. Viktor kills Singe and tells Selene to be exonerated is to kill Michael.
Michael wakes up in a lab in the Lycan lair, the first person who speaks to him is Lucian who then take a vial full of blood from him and injects it into himself (intending to use blood taken from Amelia to make himself the first Hybrid). As Michael looks on, he notices the pendant that Lucian always wears and the nightmares/visions/memories come together in a clear vision. He remembers an event Lucian's wife was Viktor's daughter Sonja was pregnant with his child. As punishment Lucian was chained to the floor and whipped while Sonja was tied to a stake to watch, then the vampires left the room and opened a slab in the ceiling letting the sunlight in and burning Sonja to death as Lucian watched. As night fell, the vampires reentered the room to finish him off but the moon rose allowing him to transform he broke free of his chains grabbed the pendant from his wife's neck and escaped. Michael reveals the memory to Lucian who fills him in on the details of how Viktor started the war initially due to the fear of a Hybrid (which Viktor referred to as an Abomination.)
The vampires begin their attack on the Lycan base a heated battle. While this is going on Kraven betrays Lucian shooting him with silver nitrate bullets, which are a more lethal than the traditional solid silver. Selene manages to quickly enter the lair and locate Michael, untying him he encourages him to leave despite his protests. While they are, arguing Kraven discovers them and spitefully reveals to Selene that it was not a Lycan but Viktor who killed her family and spared her only because of her resemblance to his dead daughter. Kraven then shot Michael and tries to take Selene with him threatening her if she does not. Lucian not yet dead injures Kraven and encourages her to bite the dying Michael. She concedes turning Michael into a hybrid with the strengths of both and none of the weaknesses. Lucian is relieved to see his dream completed then dies at the hand of Kraven.
Viktor appears breaking Selene and Michael up and throwing him through the wall and into a flooded grotto. Selene confronts Viktor with the knowledge she now has about him and while Viktor does express guilt for his action he says how what he was doing is necessary and how the abomination must be destroyed.
Michael transforms into his Hybrid form for the first time and he a Viktor fight. For much of the fight they are evenly matched but Viktor soon gets the initiative and Selene intervenes killing Viktor. The movie ends with Michael and Selene leaving hand in hand as Selene narrates about the dark uncertain future to come.
How this is connected to race
There are a wide number of factors that this movie possesses that connect to race. Factors such as:
2. Taboos about interbreeding
3. Severe punishment for breaking said taboos
4. Dress, culture, socioeconomics, and even slang (Bloods).
Each of these I will explore as needed.
Slavery the act of one group treating the other as subservient or property has existed for hundred of thousands of years but the levels in which it existed have changed. Many of the "original" slaves were Slavic peoples (Slav being the precursor word for slave). These early slaves were not necessarily bound for life and their children were often allowed into said society. However when the Europeans come to Africa and received slaves which they then brought to the new world the colonial era cheap labor was in desperate demand so slaves as we know them today were formed. A hereditary basis that passed from parents and children and as time passed focused more and more on the homeland their ancestors come from and physical characteristics they possess. The Underworld movies parallel the strange and terrible form of slavery which existed. Vampires and Werewolves in this move were born of twin brothers, but one group seeing the other as dangerous enslaved the first Werewolf. The other werewolves were turned into slaves due to the fact that they did not fit into human society and that they unlike the vampires they were not afflicted by sunlight. In this fashion werewolves became the Vampires guardians by day and watchdogs at night.
The next interesting parallel is how once colonialism breaks down quite often the next logical step for the former colonial power holders (or the “masters”) goes from enslavement to genocide. As soon as the Lycans turned against the vampires the did not seek to restore relations no as Selene said “ our order remained the same hunt them down and kill them off one by one”. Mahmood Marndani in his article “When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda.” As soon as a people can define another people as not human or less than human the ‘genocidal impulse’ is easy to follow, and a people who have been treated this way will respond with brutality with brutality. While the Lycans in the movie were seeking
One of the primary themes of this movie is interbreeding. In vampire society vampires are not to fraternize with werewolves in any way. In the beginning of the movie when Selene shows interest in Michael it is initially seen as amusing. Michael (viewed as a human at this point) is seen as a pet but harmless. When he is discovered to be a Lycan the attitude instantly changes for both of them, the vampires being instantly antagonistic towards him and disappointed and discouraging towards her.
The key relationship showing past Vampire Lycan relationships is that of Sonja and Lucian. Lucian as a slave had no ill will towards Vampires he even married one and impregnated her. Viktor as mentioned before hard her killed brutally and him beaten and whipped. This brings up another interesting issue which was well illuminated by Joanne Nagel in her article “Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality: Intimate intersections Forbidden Frontiers” explores how much more brutally women are treated than men when it comes sexuality. One very interesting historical comparison is the treatment of women collaborators and men collaborators. The article describes two women accused of sexually collaborating with the Nazis in the photograph the women’s heads are shaved, their clothing is stripped, they are barefoot, and they both have swastikas tattooed into their foreheads. A male collaborator is shown on the next page he is not visibly disrupted in any way he is blindfolded and about to be executed. This is just one example of how the rules are different not only for people designated as a different race but designated as a different gender they are treated differently. It is quite possible, even likely, had it been a Vampire male with a Lycan female the male might have received a light punishment while the female would be killed in a brutal fashion.
Another interesting element within the movie is the cultural elements exhibited by these different factions. For example forms of dress. Vampires in this movie wore clothing best described as gothic with the primary color of the clothing being black with on occasion red elements. They wear fine cut tailor made clothing with the primary materials being leather, latex, and silk . The Vampires both male and female all young and appealing can be seen lounging around the great hall enjoying the opulence and discussing the latest gossip. Lycan culture is very different their clothing is working class they are often shirtless wearing a work jacket which could be quickly removed if they need to transform. Lycans of all ages and degrees of heal can be seen. It should be noted that all Lycans shown have been male suggesting either that there are no female Lycans shown which suggests either there are no female Lycans or that female Lycans are not allowed to be with the males. The latter is more likely due to the fact that Lucien was born into slavery however due to the large gap of time between these periods the former is still a possibility. Lycan culture is more charged than that of the Vampire Lycans fight for dominance while the others not competing cheer them on. Lycans also on one occasion showed that they possessed a term for Vampires that being Bloods, it is unknown if the Vampires would consider that a derogatory term.
It should also be noted that both cultures to some extent could be passed on due to the fact of how memories are passed via bite and blood from one vampire to another reinforcing beliefs and traditions from one generation to the next.
When writing this Kevin Grevioux when interviewed on the subject stated that some of the inspiration he had had in interracial relationships in the past so it is readily apparent where these racial characteristic came from and the message the movie seeks to put across in a manner that is not overwhelming. Integration makes us stronger divided we will only destroy one another.