There used to be a time when vampires didn’t fake their way through high school to seduce a mopey teenager. They were quite evil, selfish, and got what they wanted with little care or consequence in the world. Your virginity be damned, like your soul. People didn’t come back from this nightmare, or they were so changed one wondered what happened after the film ended.
Dracula represents Christianity vs the Turks in the prologue
So in 1992 a film was released, and boldly called, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. One of its key slogans was, “love never dies.” Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Gary Oldman (Dracula), Winona Ryder (Mina/Elizabeta), Anthony Hopkins (Van Helsing/Priest), and Keanu Reeves (Jonathan Harker), this film does its best to give us gothic horror mixed with fairy tale motifs, and angst for the centuries.
Doppelgangers are abound in this film. You will see so many of them. Look for Van Helsing twice in the film, as well as Dracula, Mina, and Lucy. Each displays the other self that compliments and damns them. It’s quite a vicious site to behold. As we know the other self can be a sight to behold. More importantly, being a vampire seems to suggest that a person looses their inhibitions, and their humanity.
"Love never dies," yet it did. Bye, bye Elizabeta.
Religious themes cannot be ignored here, as God is brought into question. After all, when Dracula was human, he fought on behalf of the church. It is the tragedy of his beloved’s Elizabeta (who commits suicide), that causes him to question his faith and his “reward” for fighting on God’s behalf.
Eroticism plays a sly and sometimes disgusting part in this film. Dracula seduces Mina, then rapes and kills her friend Lucy. This visitations to Lucy are brutal, and Dracula does not keep his charming, young form he uses on Mina. Instead he looks bestial, deadly, and terrifying. By contrast, he looks young and studly when he visits Mina. When Jonathan encounters him, Dracula appears as creepy old man whose shadow does stay in place and often reveals what the count is feeling at the time. The shadow is a classic Jungian archetype, and the other self and unconscious desires do come to the surface.
To say Dracula represents all the aspects wrong with our psyches is a fair statement. He is the id (switching from Jung to Freud here), and boy is he ugly. There is a reason we as humans suppress and repress our desires. Not all of them are fit for the material world.
As an adaptation goes, the film doesn’t stay as faithful as one would like to believe to the source material, however I will say that Coppola went for a different route than most Dracula films I saw before it. This go round, Dracula knows love, and ultimately love can redeem him, as it was love that cause him to spite and curse God, resulting in his transformation into a creature of evil. This film definitely goes for the artistic, emotional side of storytelling with some commercial concessions. Bram Stoker’s Dracula cannot be accused of lacking style or ambition. Noter the use of the old school Pathé camera when Dracula comes to England. It’s a street scene that again emphasizes the techniques, which reinforce the atmosphere.
The prologue sets the stage well with who Dracula was before he became a creature of evil. Here the fairy tale motifs come alive: We have a warrior prince, a princess, love, yearnings, and one ugly curse. Lucy’s buried in a glass coffin that is straight out of Snow White. The fight scene in the prologue is a little odd as it takes place in shadows against a reddish-orange sky. The scene reminds me of stage plays where color could be used to show emotion.
Poor Lucy get's "turned out" just cause Dracula wanted it to happen.
Much is made of blood and contamination in the film. If it reflects society, AIDS became a major issue. Its not surprising someone who needs blood to live is at the war with the world around him who has no real idea he exists.
Note several of the editing and special effects in the film. When Lucy is revisited by Dracula t some point the film is reversed. Her moves appear unnatural. Likewise when Van Helsing confronts Lucy as a vampire, and she backs into the coffin, the moves again appear unnatural. The cut away scenes from circular and round shapes add a distinct, otherworldly feel to the world.
While this film makes a strong connection to love and redemption, make no mistake Dracula is very evil. He and his wives suck the blood of babies, he kills and kidnaps Jonathan in order to seduce Mina (whom he believes to be reincarnated version of his lost love, Elizabeta). He rapes, then murders Lucy out of spite of Mina’s rejection of him for Jonathan. Being a vampire is gory, unholy, and to a great extent ugly. Dracula has many brides, but he only has eyes for Mina. Sadly love can’t make him whole, just make him see the error of his existence. Also turning Mina is something of a bitter struggle as Dracula confesses to Mina, it’s not pretty.
Is this what they mean by "short end of the stick?" Ouch.
Color is abound in this film as it takes on multiple energies. Note Lucy’s colorful and somewhat outlandish outfits (in fact several of the outfits are more artistic that historically accurate). The night outfits Lucy and Mina were to bed are sublime but out of place for the era.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s score, composed by Wojciech Kilar, plays a key part in providing the atmosphere with some extra demented, gothic emotions. The music moves from serene, elegant, to sublime. There are simply moments where the one realizes there is danger in the score itself. Such heartbreaking melodies with somber elements to emphasize the romance and tragedy.
There are a lot of downers in this film as well so don’t think this is all a love-fest. Keanu’s accent is terrible. I wish someone told him to keep his American accent. It would have fit him (and the film) better. Instead when I hear it, I laugh. I love Oldman’s accent, but not everyone falls for it. A friend suggested it’s overplayed, and his hairdo and get ups are so over the top you may laugh (be warned Jonathan Harker laughs at Dracula and gets a sword in his face for his amusement).
The ending could have been, much, much, stronger because it’s clear that Mina is in love with both Jonathan and Dracula. I thought Jonathan and Mina’s confrontation was weak considering he fought so hard to get back to her, and she turned Dracula away to be with Jonathan. Mina plays both ends of the fence here. She may need the closure like Dracula, but she half-asses it.
If you purchase the DVD or Blu-Ray, the commentary and extras were worth it for me, as Francis Ford Coppola and his son Roman Coppola discuss the visual effects for the film. There is talk of the screenplay, director’s commentary, and some behind the scenes goodness I enjoyed. If you like your vampires evil and with a touch of redemption, then this the film for you. Mind you, nobody gets what they want but Dracula in the end, and the accents are grating.