“I am a Death Dealer, sworn to destroy those known as the Lycans. Our war has waged for centuries, unseen by human eyes. But all that is about to change.”
The first Underworld film introduces us to Selene (Kate Beckinsale), a determined vampire warrior committed to her cause in light of the tragedy she understands took her family from her as a child. Her clan of vampires, however, has grown increasingly influenced by political machinations and decadence and she believes they’ve lost focus, sharp instincts and their sense of urgency. Like Worf on Star Trek who seemed to be the only real Klingon in his day, Selene seems to be one of the few who is actually dedicated to their mission. Her mentor, Viktor, resides in a century-long slumber so she has no one to turn to when she discovers a major werewolf pack and the potential return of the beasts’ long-believed dead leader, Lucien.
A human named Michael is drawn into the conflict, the ignorant character who realizes a war has been going on under his feet and is forced onto the Lycans’ side with a seemingly decisive bite. Selene finds herself protecting Michael and, piece by piece, everything she believed in is turned on its head. She realizes vampires within her midst have sold out their own people, enemies she believed were animals were actually the originally wronged parties, and the now-wakened Viktor, her surrogate father, has kept the gravest of secrets from her.
Selene and Michael come to realize the only people they can rely on is each other, a practical joining that seems like it won’t be platonic for long as there is obvious attraction between them. However, that’s forbidden, considered an abomination by Viktor, and not just on principle… it’s due to a centuries-old event that sparked the war in the first place. Underworld does a great job unfolding, twisting and turning who really is protagonist and antagonist in a melodramatic story captured in gorgeous gray hues, filmed throughout Hungary by director (and husband of Kate Beckinsale) Len Wiseman.
Have you ever believed in something and had it completely unraveled?
Selene embodies that heart of the cause-committed believer whose foundation is reduced to sand, blown away by revealed truth. It would be like Batman finding out his parents were really killed by Commissioner Gordon or, perhaps in Selene’s case, even worse than that. Everything she believed about the world, who the “good guys” and “bad guys” were, is washed away; she realizes all her talents, skills, energy and ardor have been pointed in the wrong direction. Like the apostle Paul, who went from killing Christians to preaching Christ (or similarly, cleric John Preston in Equilibrium) Selene realizes she’s been backing the wrong team. Her vampiric father, the one who had defined the world for Selene, stands revealed as a father full of lies.
“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44
One reason this story Vampire/Lycan story touches a chord with a very human part of us is because all of us have been, or still are, believers of lies told to us by false fathers: lies of origin, lies about life, lies about good and evil, and lies about who we are and who we were meant to be.
Have you ever had your eyes opened to the truth of spiritual conflict all around us?
Where Selene might be the spiritual equivalent of the ardent atheist like Antony Flew (who became a deist) or C.S. Lewis who had his world undone by the revelation of the gospel (ultimately converting to Christianity), Michael is the classic character who stands in ignorance that there is even a war going on at all. Like Neo in The Matrix, he discovers the world is deeper and wider than he believed, that there is serious danger all around him. Michael also bears a lineage that has dire consequences for himself and others, he’s infected with a curse, and he desperately needs saving. Those of us who might not have been crusaders for our beliefs like Selene can relate to Michael. And “ignorance” doesn’t get him off the hook; if he doesn’t act decisively and understand who and what is right in the film, his simple existence may bring death and destruction.
The film reveals the ancient moment of relationship breakdown, the catalyst for war between monstrous houses, and the potential romance between Vampire and Lycan threatens to cause great conflict. It’s a supernatural Romeo and Juliet (House Montewolf and House Vampulet) but the film doesn’t end with suicide, OR with romantic love being the catalyst for reconciliation. Actually, what we see is that something NEW has to come into this underworld to achieve that, a character both fully Lycan and fully Vampire, someone who embodies both and represents a potential bridge for reconciliation. It would be gross distortion to say this properly parallels the Christian gospel of Jesus being fully God and fully man, but the filmmakers are – intentionally or not – mixing and matching and having fun with Shakespearean plot points and religious concepts to give the narrative richer resonance.
How DO we reconcile the fractured families, the local and global “houses” and tribes of mankind? How do we remedy our conflict and bitterness and brokenness? The first Underworld creates its own melodramatic fantasy world with a fantasy-styled hope that a remedy may exist, but as Selene explains at the end, the battle is FAR from over…