Friday, October 2, 2009

Top Films: Bram Stoker's Dracula

(Another excerpt from that crazy book idea. A little longish but…)

This is possibly the best adaptation of Stoker’s novel to date, though it has a serious flaw. First of all, this is the first movie to adapt the novel and retain all of the characters without any name changes. It also follows the story line closer than any previous film version has.

Due to this careful parallel with the novel all of the themes are retained. Evil is seductive and terrifying at the same time. Whenever earlier films tried to portray this, one or the other end of the spectrum was weighted. Dracula and his brides either came across as appealing and not scary, or they came across as horrific and the viewer had to believe the character’s reaction to see any seductive appeal. In Coppola’s vision the vampires are portrayed in a truly sexual and seductive pose, and yet they are terrible and disturbing at the same time.

The need for a community of faith is shown in Dracula as well. In retaining all of the characters the whole of the community is present, and the attempt to protect Mina by excluding her from the hunt opens her up to danger just as in the novel. The movie is careful to follow the action in the book, and each character has their role to play.

The guidance of the wiser, older Van Helsing is present as well. He goes through the steps of revealing the evil, instructing the community in the ritual of destroying it, and leading the community to battle against it. It is a supernatural, spiritual battle. Van Helsing informs the group of the unholy nature of the evil. While he is fully knowledgeable about the nature of the evil, he does not show a lack of fear or respect for it. He is aware of the danger and controls himself so as to not be overcome be its seductiveness.

The major flaw of this film is not what it leaves out of the story, but what it adds to it. Following the lead of Curtis’ 1973 Dracula, Coppola and screenwriter James Hart, add a romantic motivation to the vampire. In a prelude to the story, the viewer sees the cause of Vlad the Impaler’s vampirism. When he losses his wife at her own hand while defending the Christian Church, he curses God and becomes a vampire. It is a punishment from God. Later, in the course of Jonathan’s visit to Castle Dracula, it is revealed that Mina is the perfect twin of his dead wife. Any motives the Count may have had for going to England are now lost in his desire to claim Mina.

This romantic element of the story clouds the evil nature of Dracula. It presents the vampire in a sympathetic light as so many other films now do. It also affects the end of the film as it relates to the novel. Dracula is destroyed and good wins, but there is no view of the rescued world. In the novel Jonathan and Quincey kill Dracula, and Mina is returned to normal and reunited with her husband. The end of the book has Jonathan telling the reader of his and Mina’s son, who represents the next generation who will hear of the community’s story and learn from it. In the film on the other hand, the men mortally wound Dracula, but it is Mina who finishes him off in an act of love. The screenplay has Mina and Jonathan reunited, but the film cuts this out and ends with Mina’s act. The question for the viewer who has read the book is huge. In the end it is ambiguous as to whether or not the world is rescued. Will there be a future generation to learn from the community? Have a love between the ultimate good (Mina) and the ultimate evil (Dracula) destroyed it?

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