The Women of Horrotober: Lili Taylor in The Addiction, 1995
Steeped in the imagery of drug addiction, vampirism, original sin, the Holocaust and My Lai, along with the words and tenets of Husserl, Nietzsche and more, Abel Ferrara's The Addiction (1995) feels like a fever-dream, a descent into utter blackness, the void, negation and nothingness. Fear and Loathing in New York City, Graduate School Edition. Filmed in stark black and white, the city streets bathed in inky shadows, from where the vampires emerge, jonesing for another fix of human blood.
As Kathleen, a doctoral student in philosophy who is attacked one evening by a bloodsucking Annabella Sciorra, Lili Taylor carries the existential weight of the film on her slender shoulders, and does so admirably. At times, her dialogue sounds like pretentious notes from Philosophy 101 - "To face what we are in the end, we stand before the light and our true nature is revealed. Self-revelation is annihilation of self." Yet her spare, unemotional delivery is effectively haunting, creating a palpable sense of dread.
Soon she's succumbing to the addiction, leading to the film's heaviest nods to drug abuse. Taylor responds accordingly. Free will and determinism struggle for control, manifesting in an explosive scene so visceral it'll shake you to your core. Taylor, fighting with herself, fighting what she's become, violently thrashes her body while repeatedly screaming in a rage, "I will not submit!" It's difficult to watch, a truly uncompromising, gut-wrenching bit of acting that transcends the film's boundaries to feel universal, a mantra for all our anguished inner turmoil.
After the orgiastic bloodletting at her dissertation party - a darkly humorous take on the horrors of academia if ever there was one - Taylor is overcome with guilt. Ferrara's fabled obsession with Catholicism returns to the forefront. She struggles with the knowledge of what she's done, the need to repent eventually overwhelming her.
The Addiction evokes phenomenology and existentialism, historical massacres, gender politics, and religious symbolism, all in service of a trenchant portrait of addiction. As the film's lead - indeed, she's in nearly every scene - Taylor makes it all coalesce convincingly in her characterization of Kathleen. She's tightly coiled throughout, making her moments of true release and rage all the more invigorating.
Besides The Addiction, Taylor appeared in three other films in 1995, then five more in 1996, including another powerful performance starring in I Shot Andy Warhol. Both films serve as important reminders that, for a period of time during the last truly electrifying era of independent cinema, Lili Taylor proved she could more than carry a film on her slim shoulders, while leaving an indelible mark in her wake.