This paper explores the ambivalence of psychological reactions to immortality. Immortal characters seem to assuage existential anxiety, by facilitating the desire for death transcendence, while simultaneously arousing concerns about the feasibility of immortality, by demonstrating how infinity might intensify the inherent problems of existence. Fictional depictions of immortality offer a means of posing, in a fantastical realm, ordinary existential questions that in reality we all should confront. The author contrasts the suffering of the character Louis, in Anne Rice's (1976) novel Interview with the Vampire, with the successful immortality of the character Duncan MacLeod in the television series Highlander, in order to demonstrate that the quality of existence, regardless of duration, depends on how one lives in the face of existential anxiety. Fictional depictions of immortality are not purely palliative towards existential anxiety but also facilitate consumers' contemplation of how to live and love fully in their own finite existence
The present paper examines Anne Rice's (1976) novel Interview with the Vampire and the television series Highlander in order to advance the argument that fictional depictions of immortal beings offer consumers of these fictions valuable insight into their own existential struggles. My goal is to examine the ambivalence of psychological reactions to depictions of immortality. Immortal characters seem to assuage existential anxiety, by facilitating the desire for death transcendence, while simultaneously arousing concerns about the feasibility of immortality, by demonstrating how infinity might intensify the inherent existential problems of maintaining a meaningful and satisfying life.
According to proponents of Terror Management Theory (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 1991), the primary motive for much of human social behavior is to minimize the potentially paralyzing anxiety stemming from the uniquely human awareness that personal mortality is inevitable. If these theorists are correct, then depictions of fictional immortal characters may be appealing because they, like traditional religious notions of immortality, help to ameliorate existential anxiety by allowing people to imagine how some aspect of identity can transcend death. Portrayals of immortal characters allow one the opportunity to contemplate the question "would I like an immortal life?" In a 1999 interview with Mulvey-Roberts, Anne Rice expressed her incredulity at the idea that people would be turned off by the idea of becoming a vampire when she stated, "I think that's a literary idea, that people will look at immortality and say No? what a nightmare. No thank you. I think the really human thing to do is to think try it for several hundred years and see if it works out" (p.177). The desire to avoid death seems to be a motive of the fictional characters that pursue the chance to become immortal through supernatural means. For example, at the end of Interview with the Vampire, the boy who has been recording the interview does not understand Louis' suffering and demands to be made a vampire himself.
Don't you see how you made it sound? ... Give it to me! Said the boy, his right
hand tightening in a fist, the fist pounding his chest. Make me a vampire now!
He said as the vampire stared aghast. (p. 339).
Although the desire for immortality is initially seductive, its total appeal is questionable due to some depictions of immortality as a sentence of perpetual angst. If fictional immortality is appealing because it assuages deep-seated existential concerns, then what are we to make of instances where the immortal characters seem to suffer more than do their mortal counterparts? It is my contention that fictional depictions of immortality are not purely palliative towards existential anxiety but rather serve as a mechanism for fostering confrontation with the problems facing mortal existence. …