Moments of Grace

“I don’t believe in stories with happy endings; I believe in moments of grace.” ~ Todd Field, AMC Shoot Out

I’ve been thinking a great deal about this quote, as post enters its final stages for Episodes 1 – 3 of They Live Among Us.

Moments of grace. What the characters – supernatural and mortal – are seeking. What I – as a writer, a filmmaker, a human being – am seeking. Moments of grace.

We live in ungraceful times; we are culturally conditioned to judge a man not by his actions, but by the amount of money he makes. Profit is our deity; we feed off of the misery of others through war-profiteering, loan-shark banking and depriving the impoverished of healthcare. An infant dies in its mother’s arms because the truckload of grain that relief organizations sent to her camp was hijacked and resold for profit. Churches build towering gilt monoliths worth hundreds of millions of dollars – and these structures cast giant shadows on Skid Row. Victims of rape are murdered by their families, for their victimization is seen as an admission that they are the guilty ones. Children are bought and sold – traded like junk bonds – within the sex-trade industry.

We know this, of course. We hear it on the nightly news… but we refuse to listen. Instead of exploring the human crisis that is Darfur, we turn our attention towards the Jersey Shore. We do anything, everything to drown out this influx of data, for the shame and guilt that we would feel if we were to open our hearts and our minds to the human suffering that surrounds us would be more than the soul could bear.

It was not without trepidation that I began this project. I knew that I would be taken to very dark and painful places; and yet, I also knew that I would experience moments of grace… and that is pwhat I experience as I witness post: beings as they battle demons, literal and figurative, while strugglthe in the place that is the City of Angels… and seek moments of grace. Dark emotions and conflict lurk just beneath the surface; scenes are taut, whittled down to what is most primal and essential. A killer seeks true love. A priest ministers to demons. A lonely man loves a ghost. An angel yearns for a prostitute.

Moments of anguish… enveloped by moments of grace.

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The Eye of the Beholder

Film is a fascinating medium to work in. First, you create a world, and those who walk within it, and then you work with cast and crew to achieve an articulation of your vision. Eventually, you make your way to the moment of truth – the rough cut.

I have spent the past few months wandering through the world of “They Live Among Us.” Night after night I have sat in a corner of the Paradise, or followed Caim on his sojourn through the mean streets. I have watched Lucian and Beliala rise, and I have shed tears for Peg – as well as for Ted’s heart-breaking dilemma.

This morning, once again, I watched Lillith. Through the lens.

A curious thing happens when you look at the world through a lens. Life is compressed. Distilled to its very essence. It is stripped of everything superfluous. It sees only the truth. It is omniscient. It is the eye of the beholder.

Looking at the footage, I was able to behold Lillith for all that she is. Beautiful. Fractured. Tormented by the demons within. She did not toy with Craig, as a cat does with its prey; instead, she genuinely wanted to be near him. Loneliness was the hunger that drove her to him – her need for love was great. Unfairly punished by the machinations of a patriarchal society. Expelled, cast forth, turned into a victim of her own desires.

And thus, Craig responded as any young man would; he pursued her. The hunt had commenced. His attraction to her was not false – how could it be ? He paid for her drinks, and he took her to a rooftop. The promise of the pleasures of her flesh danced in his head. He wooed her out of her shyness, and he reclined in anticipation of what was to come…

… and another moment of truth. Lillith’s dark nature took over. Her abandonment into carnality was not titillating; instead, it was tragic. I watched, mute, as Lillith lost herself in Craig. I watched as she fed on his pleasure, on his desire, on his life-force. Her eyes fluttered; she was sated… and then awareness came upon her. She moaned as she saw what she had done. Shame, disgust, guilt flew across her face; cumulus clouds of anguish. She scrambled away from him, hating herself a little bit more, as she has done every time that she has fed on a human.

Later, I saw her at Paradise again. Another night, another man. This one was named Terry – a social worker on Skid Row. At first I assumed that she would feed again, but now that I have witnessed all she experienced that night with Craig, I realize that to do so might destroy her. Each killing brings with it new trauma; another one could push her over the edge of reason. Terry is a kind man with a gentle way about him. She is desperate for contact. She whispers her mantra: “This time, everything will be alright.”

I wonder how long this budding romance will last, for I know that soon Lillith will meet another like her. One who feeds on the pleasure and pain of others. A predator who feeds on lust; he is unapologetic for his state. His appetite is huge. What will come of her, if she couples with him? Will she, like Lucian and Beliala, pass into darkness?

The Struggle Within

Recurrent themes echo within the world of They Live Among Us. Each character struggles with feelings of isolation, of loneliness… of being different… an outsider.

Being alone in a city of over 4 million people provides one with a certain autonomy; there is comfort in invisibility… and yet, there is also sorrow. Each of the characters yearn for something; they wish for their souls to be touched, and it is because of this yearning that they must raise their defenses and bear the shields of objectivity and separation. Emotions must be compartmentalized, for, when they are not, they erupt with the power of Vesuvius.

Good and evil are not defined in black and white in this modern gothic world. No one is completely pure; and yet all have the chance for redemption. Even Lucian longs for love, from his Creator, from his master… from Serafina. Father Buer, in the dark of the night, closes his eyes and dreams of Elysium, where once he loved another. They are very mortal, these immortals. They hope. They fear. They dream.

Each struggles with inner demons: Craig, the perpetual man-child. Rocco, the monkey of drug addiction riding with great fury upon his back. Serafina, burdened with a soul that has been denied eternal rest, Jimmy, haunted by Beth’s sudden disappearance, and Caim, the wounded warrior angel, tormented by his actions of the past, having to face what haunts him most, again and again, in perpetuity.

Caim has traveled as far into the dark that any being can journey, and still survive. This last foray has left an indelible stamp upon his spirit. You can see it within his eyes… eyes as blue as the heavens, and yet, as black as the dark of night.

Few of the characters are without choice. Lillith could deny her carnal urgings. Lucian and Beliala could forsake the consumption of flesh. Buer could accept his place in the world, Sam could walk into the light, and Caim could choose, this time, to stay away from Serafina, to let her life unfold without interference.

But they do not. And so, the story continues…

The All-American Succubus

Lillith may be as fresh-faced as a homecoming queen, and yet she is one of the oldest of those who live among us.

The story of Lillith is a cautionary tale about a modern young woman living in less than modern times. Lillith was Adam’s first wife, and, like women of today, believed that she was her spouse’s equal. Unfortunately, Adam did not share this belief. He wanted a mate who was uncomplicated, uneducated and submissive. He wanted to be served. He wanted a slave. And so, in this ancient world of patriarchal theocracy, Lillith was cast forth from Paradise, and forced to wander the earth for eternity.

I think about the shock that she must have felt upon awakening from the fall. How cruel her punishment was, for her only crime was insubordination. I think about the shame, the isolation that she felt, as she navigated through a sea of mortals. I think about Paradise, the memory of it seared into her brain, how she hungered to return home. And hunger she still does, for after the fall, Lillith was transformed into a succubus.

Succubi and incubi are specialized forms of vampires. They are sexual vampires. They may or may not drink the blood of their victims. They may or may not dine on their victim’s flesh. One thing is for certain – what they do is to drain the life-force from their victims, extinguishing them in an orgasmic frenzy.

I sit in the corner of the Paradise Bar. A man walks in – Craig. He’s boyish and rumpled; discontent is settled on his shoulders like a shrug. He sits at the bar, alone, and drinks Scotch.

Across from him, a beautiful young woman. Lillith. She watches Craig; I can feel her attraction to him – it is palpable. How ripe he is. The warmth that emanates from his flesh. I hear the thoughts as they run through her head – Maybe this time it won’t happen, maybe this time I won’t kill him, tonight will be different, maybe this time everything will be alright…

She speaks to Craig; he turns… and within moments he is smitten.

Perhaps tonight will be different. Perhaps tonight, everything will be alright.

For Lillith, the hunt begins.

The Trouble With Lucian

Not all fallen angels are as conflicted as Caim and Father Buer. For some, life on earth has become a sort of paradise. For beings such as Lucian, Los Angeles is a veritable all-you-can-eat human buffet.

For every protagonist there must be an equally forceful antagonist, and Lucian is a force to be reckoned with. He, too, served with Caim, as one of the Ancient Ones. He, too rebelled and fought in the Great War.

I see Lucian, before the Fall, growing envious of Caim’s rising star. I imagine him as a sort of supernatural Iago, always present, ever whispering into Caim’s ear, offering an insidious litany. He encourages Caim’s growing discontent; ¬†Lucian nurtures and feeds the seeds of rebellion. Perhaps Paradise was too perfect for Lucian; perhaps his appetite for flesh, and the power that came with it, drove him. Fall he did… but instead of plummeting into the depths of despair, he rose – and thrived – amongst mankind.

Lucian is a master of manipulation. He prefers places of power – Wall Street, D.C., Rome. Wherever there is excess and privilege, Lucian is there. Every few decades, his persona dies – a car wreck, a mysterious plane crash – and Lucian retires into solitude for a period of time, only to rise again.

And thus, he rises, this time in Hollywood. Lucian embraces the City of Angels with gusto; he surrounds himself with carefully selected mortals – modern-day Renfields – to help him feed his fancies. He has crafted himself into an A-list movie star; he basks in luxury. At his side is his ever-faithful companion Beliala, an elegant yet bloodthirsty bitch if ever there was one.

In this new era of corporate capitalism and greed, Lucian thrives. He loves L.A., and all of its trappings. A new assistant has arrived to serve him – Alex, an ambitious junior agent. Alex has been hired by an age-old firm, which represents just a few select clients. Alex’s job is to find young Hollywood hopefuls, and send them, under the guise of an audition, to Lucian, like a lamb to the slaughter.

Soon, however, Lucian will himself be drawn into Caim’s private hell. Lucian, too, longs for the Chosen One.

For Lucian, Serafina might be the ultimate sacrifice. An offering of blood – that could launch the War against Man.

Saving Grace

The road to redemption is not a straight path; it is filled with twists and turns. One may encounter obstacles on the way; seemingly insurmountable barriers that must be overcome, in order to journey forward.

For Father Buer, this road is, at times, a perilous one. Like Caim, Buer is himself a fallen one; he served as Captain in Caim’s army, a seasoned warrior and elder advisor, whose devotion to his General – and a certain amount of hubris – led to his downfall.

Cast out of paradise, Buer, like the others, was forced to exist as an immortal amidst the sea of humanity that surrounded him. For many, this existence leads to darkness – and to despair. However, Buer found a way. He developed an idea, a belief, that the fallen ones could transform themselves through redemption, that they could all achieve a state of grace. For Buer, this meant to devote his existence to the Church; to give comfort and aid to those in need of it most – the indigent, the mad, the angels-turned-demons that live among us.

I’m not certain how far back Buer’s occupational choice extends, although I’ve seen a collection of religious icons at the Getty, and upon examining a 14th century panel, was struck by the face of one of the monks in the relief… how similar in shape and in tone to Buer’s. A certain sense of suffering within his eyes. He stands apart from his brethren, he seems lost in thought. Yes. I believe this to be Buer. I think about his decision to serve God, and if there was catalyst that compelled him to do so. What was it? Has he ever loved a mortal?

I watch him as he tends to the homeless. The social workers, the police all know him, for he spends his days weaving through the hell of Skid Row. They bring to him the untreatables; miserable wretches in filthy rags, who find no relief through traditional medical treatment, for the wretched ones are not human. The shame of being cast forth, the pain of living amongst humans, the longing for home – all of these elements have driven them mad. I wonder how this affects Father Buer. I wonder if he struggles for his own sanity. I suspect that at night, alone, these fears come to surface… but they have yet to break him.

I think about the day that Buer came to Skid Row, and found a new resident there. Weeping, frightened, babbling, he was clothed in filthy rags, his body covered with ulcers and putrescence. Buer knelt, and loosened the bindings around the other’s head… and discovered that this wretch was Caim. His general. His friend.

This discovery must have unnerved Buer, for Caim, like him, was one of the Ancient Ones. For Caim to have fallen so deep into despair was unheard of. I watch as Buer tends to Caim’s body – and to his soul. Years go by, with Caim trapped in darkness. One day, a glimmer of light – Buer sees recognition in Caim’s eyes. Another glimmer… and then, bit by bit, Caim emerges from darkness, and is finally restored to life.

And so, Buer continues his mission, to give comfort and aid to those who walk among us. He works tirelessly to restore them to grace, for he, too dreams of paradise. Redemption is the fragile thread that he clings to, for it is his last hope.

The Faces of They Live Among Us

You’ve been reading about the characters who live among us. Here are the wonderful actors who are giving them life (in no particular order – consider this a casting roundtable, L. to R.). Click on the pic to see them more up close and personal:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAIM: Geoffrey M. Reeves

SERAFINA: Ivet Corvea

FATHER BUER: Rolf Saxon

LUCIAN: Allen Marsh

CRAIG: James Thomas Gilbert

ALEX: Erik Kowalski

BETH: Jessica Nicole Webb

SAM: Don Shirey

JIMMY: Justin Baker

PEG: Kendra Munger

TED: David Stanford

BELIALA: Marcia French

LILLITH: Nina Rausch

ROCCO: Terence J. Rotolo