The Liminality of Dr. Hess – Ganja & Hess

By Ifeanyi Nwonye

Bill Gun’s film, Ganja & Hess, uses the liminality of Dr. Hess’s existence between Black & White spaces and the human & paranormal world to emphasize his cursed existence as an isolated species, despite the opulence of his lifestyle. When analyzing Dr. Hess’s racial conflict, we see that his education and success as a doctor have afforded him access to various White upper class spaces. From the White neighborhood his elegant mansion resides in to the predominantly White party that takes place there. But, despite the shared occasion and communion of the party’s attendees, Dr. Hess and his son are forced to talk amongst themselves since none of the White guests attempt to include them in their conversation or even acknowledge them at all. Dr. Hess’s separation from this community is only further solidified by his expressed fear of the police while Dr. Mead atop a trip during a manic episode. He explains that he is the “only colored on the block” and the police will surely suspect him as being involved if the body of another colored person were to turn up on or even near his property. Dr. Hess’s ostracization is even more dramatic during his visit at a Black bar he goes to. Not only is he sitting by himself while everyone else converses in groups or pairs but his presence also causes their conversations to cease completely. We see this happen twice when he passes a group to go in and out of the bathroom and when he enters the bar to begin with. Both of which were accompanied by accusatory and confused stares. 

Meanwhile, his struggles between the human and paranormal realm are a bit more nuanced. Contrary to the many different iterations of vampirism in popular literature & media, Dr. Hess is hardly a conventional representation of the creature. Not only does he lack fangs, pale skin, and a coffin to sleep in but he also displays the ability to walk into broad daylight & churches and enjoy human food. But the main tool of juxtaposition is religion. Since the film is oriented through a Christ-centric lens, Hess’s obedience to the African religion that calls him to consume blood likens him to a heretic, a sinner, and even a demon, if you consider Christian understanding of vampirism and followers of various non-western religions. So, it is only through his pursuit of Christ’s forgiveness that Hess is then purified by Jesus because when he dies by the shadow of the cross, he presumably dies as a human. 


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