I finally saw the 2009 vampire thriller Daybreakers last night and it is a movie that I must analyze using my tool of choice: disability theory.
The plot goes something like this: a plague has turned most humans into vampires and because no effective blood substitute exists, vampires are draining humans of their blood. A small group of vampire “human sympathizers” and humans who refuse to be turned have banned together to find a “cure” to vampirism.
Now, although Daybreakers does not put forth an overtly ableist discourse, you just need to dig a little.
While the film’s heroic team searches diligently for a cure to vampirism, I am reminded of the cure as a narrative trope that disability theory often interrogates. In order for disabled subjects to be agenic, to express their subjectivity, the biomedical model asserts that disabled subjects need to be cured of their disability. Daybreakers positions the cure as the only humane, effective solution to the low blood supplies that are troubling the planet.
The cure begins to look more and more appealing when communities are menaced by a growing number of Subsiders, vampires who cannot afford to purchase human blood. Without human blood, the vampires are transformed into deformed beings. Their bodies are disfigured, their cognitive skills dwindled, and they begin to embody what their name suggests: a being that is below the standard. In one word, they are disabled.
Even visually, deliberate distinctions are made between the vampires and the Subsiders.
Akin to the restrictions that subjects with disabilities faced (and to some extent still do)– people relegated to hospitals, to attics, to spaces of invisibility–the Subsiders live in the sewer systems below the city. They exist out of sight. The Subsiders become a public nuisance, however, when they leave their forced places of hiding and roam the city for food. They stand on the streets, holding signs that read “need blood.” At this point, the citizens (read: visually normative bodies) protest. There is an uncanny connection here to the Ugly Laws of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, laws that penalized disabled subjects who went to the streets, begging for food.
Issues of class also arise. Currently, people are routinely arrested and forbidden from panhandling in certain areas. The immense prison population that exists in the United States speaks to the overwhelming amount of people incarcerated for crimes of poverty. For the dominant culture, these subjects are out of sight, out of mind; problem solved. No one wants to see the poor, the disabled, the mentally ill. This same logic is applied to the Subsiders. Once they are seen, they have to either be cured or killed. The normative population in Daybreakers chooses the latter, resulting in mass executions (think eugenics).
Finally, the problem with low blood supplies is solved by our heros once they identify a cure. Naturally, the cure spreads to all the vampires, changing them back to humans. The population is saved once all are made “normal.” What I find most disturbing with this film is how Daybreakers frames the cure as the ideal happy ending: normalcy saves the day.