Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula

There were so many of them, but no one ever did the book! And I knew what the book was ’cause I read the book! And I could see that in most of the scenes, Harker is called Renfield and Lucy is the one in love but she’s married to Harker and they just totally played havoc with Stoker’s novel, you know, just to suit whatever God knows the reason was. – Francis Ford Coppola

Mr. Coppola was correct.  So…what happened?

In a special feature about the making 0f Francis Ford Coppola’s interpretation of Dracula, he mentions the entire cast reading the book together, how happy he was to add characters like Quincey who don’t normally appear in the movies, and the above quote.  Yes, his version does have scenes and lines that don’t usually appear in the movies, but the characters’ personalities get twisted around, and the plot focuses on a love story that simply didn’t exist in the book!  Isn’t that “playing havoc” with Stoker’s novel too?

Well, about a month or so ago, I watched and thoroughly enjoyed the Dom’s episode about this movie in his “Lost in Adaptation” web series.  Check it out here if you’re interested.

Towards the end, he made this comment: “So I guess this film did better than most Dracula movies in sticking to the book, but much like Watchmen, that actually turned out to work against it ultimately by bringing the changes into more painfully sharp contrast.”

I didn’t agree at first, mostly because I didn’t want to agree with any statement that implied the film did a good job of sticking to the book.  But when I re-watched the movie for this blog and then re-watched the pilot episode of the Dracula TV series, I realized that the Dom was 100% correct.

For example, Quincey finally got to appear alongside Dr. Seward and Arthur in this movie.  Like the book, they all try to win Lucy’s heart, and we get to hear Quincey making the heartfelt speech that he made to her in the book.  Unfortunately, Lucy’s personality got warped into an over-sexualized flirt who shamelessly plays with the emotions of her three suitors.  So she cuts Quincey off mid-speech to run squealing to Dr. Seward.  It was nice to hear lines from the book, but the way the scene played out was all wrong.  It felt like a punch in the gut to both of their characters.

But the Dom’s critique really comes into play when looking at the romance between Dracula and Mina.

Trigger warning: discussion of sexual assault and rape

Okay.  First things first, I don’t mind when people ship Dracula/Mina.  I understand that many people probably became acquainted with both characters through this movie, the TV series, or any other adaptation that shows them having some type of attraction to each other.  The authors of the “official” sequel considered this issue when they wrote Dracula: The Un-Dead and decided to rewrite their relationship in the original book into a romance.

However…when I think about their relationship in the original book, I wonder how this even happened in the first place?  The authors of Dracula: The Un-Dead admitted in an author’s note that Bram Stoker never “clearly” wrote a romance, but that’s like saying that J.K. Rowling never “clearly” wrote a father/son relationship between Harry and Voldemort.

As you know by now if you’ve read my other Dracula posts, the Count imprisons and psychologically tortures Mina’s fiancé, Jonathan Harker.  She spends most of the summer worrying about Jonathan because she doesn’t hear much from him except one curt message that doesn’t sound like him at all.  Then, the Count arrives in London and murders her best friend.  So, even if they had never interacted at all in the book, why would anybody believe that Mina could fall in love with a man who almost killed her husband and killed her best friend?  (FYI: no, she wasn’t the reincarnation of his dead wife in the book.  She had no relationship to him at all.)

But it doesn’t end there.  Aside from a scene where Mina spots Dracula feeding on Lucy, she and the Count don’t interact at all until the male protagonists start the vampire hunt and leave her behind.  They think she’ll be safer at home.  They’re wrong: the Count breaks into Dr. Seward’s house and secretly feeds on Mina’s blood for a few nights without anyone realizing.  THEN, when they finally figure it out, the men burst into the Harkers’ room, where they find Jonathan unconscious and Dracula forcing Mina to drink his own blood.

After they chase him off, Mina screams and cries, but quickly pulls herself together to tell her friends what happened.  Behold, some of the charming and romantic things that Dracula said to her while he attacked her (yep, sarcasm):

“Silence!  If you make a sound I shall take him [her husband] and dash his brains out before your very eyes.”

“First, a little refreshment to reward my exertions.  You may as well be quiet; it is not the first time, or the second, that your veins have appeased my thirst.”

“Then he spoke to me mockingly: ‘And so you, like the others, would play your brains against mine.  You would help these men to hunt me and frustrate me in my designs!  You know now […] what it is to cross my path. […] And you, their best beloved one, are now to me flesh of my flesh; blood of my blood; kin of my kin; my bountiful wine-press for a while; and shall be later on my companion and helper. […] But as yet you are to be punished for what you have done.  You have aided in thwarting me; now you shall come to my call.”

So, in conclusion, their big scene together involves the Count invading Mina’s bedroom, threatening to kill her husband if she fights back, tells her that there’s no point fighting back anyway because he’s drunk her blood before and he’s about to do it again, mocks her for thinking she could ever be smarter than him, forces her to drink his own blood, and tells her that by doing so, he has put her under his control.  The book also describes him using one arm gripping both her hands so hard that he leaves red marks on her wrists, and using the other to smash her face into his chest.

Does anything that he says or does remind you of anything?  Maybe a felony crime that involves non-consensual sex?!?

And now here’s how the scene is done in the movie:

Somehow…some way… for some reason…somebody looked at this passage in the book and apparently decided that it was hot romance material.

WHY?

As I watched the special “making of” features for 1979 Dracula and 1992 Dracula, I felt like I must be missing something here, because the weirdness of Dracula/Mina never got addressed.  Nobody gave any indication that they knew the romance was inaccurate, but wanted to try something different with the characters.  Instead I heard things like this from the 1992 screenwriter, James V. Hart: “The idea was to portray Dracula finally as a charismatic, tragic hero that he really was, not just another bloodsucking monster that we have to do away with.”  I don’t see anything “heroic” about that attack on Mina in the book.

So, because this issue never gets addressed, the romance on screen seems even more confusing.  I appreciate that Coppola wanted to be more faithful to the book, but by allowing the romance to be a plot point, we now see Dracula imprison Jonathan in his castle, travel to London to hit on Jonathan’s girlfriend, and said girlfriend doesn’t seem to care as much as she should.  When she finds out that the man she’s kissing did in fact kill Lucy, she cries and smacks him…and then goes right back to kissing him.  What the…?

To make matters worse, the movie’s romance between Dracula and Mina is pretty creepy even without the context of the book.  He introduces himself to her as a foreigner and asks if she’d show him around.  She brushes him off and says to go find a map.  Ok, that was a little rude, but this doesn’t justify his attempts to keep following her and making comments about how she shouldn’t wander around London by herself.  Mina actually threatens to call the police on him!  AND THEN…he apologizes, and she assures him that it’s okay because she was the one being rude to him, the poor stalker.

So they go on a date immediately afterwards, and all of a sudden, his desire for her overcomes her, and so he drags her off into a corner while she struggles and protests.  He considers sucking her blood, but manages to restrain himself.  Meanwhile, she’s still struggling, but stops when she realizes, “I know you!”

Ah, so it’s okay to assault somebody when it’s the reincarnation of your dead spouse.  That’s good to know.

 

As for the rest of the movie…

Keanu Reeves isn’t who I would have picked to play Jonathan, but to be honest, I don’t hate his performance.  He seems like he’s really trying to do well, and the movie didn’t give him much to do.  He’s important in the beginning, but after getting left to die in the Count’s castle, he takes a backseat to the romance between his girlfriend and his captor.  Technically, this is somewhat accurate to the book.  In the opening four chapters, we only hear from him.  After he comes back, he’s just one of several different characters who write down their perspectives of what’s happening.  Nonetheless, he’s still important.  Out of all the men in the group, he is the one who hunts the Count the most relentlessly to save his wife.  He has a bit of a character arc, going from terrified survivor to vampire hunter.  The movie doesn’t let him shine or show the other two times he climbed down the castle wall to get away from the Count.

Again, it is so nice to see all three of Lucy’s suitors: Dr. Seward, Quincey, and Arthur.  Unfortunately, they don’t get to do much either, to the point that their character entry on TV Tropes refers to them as “Lucy’s Suitors.”  I guess that’s why their roles get consolidated into one or two roles for the movies.

I’ve already mentioned the whole issue with Lucy’s personality change.  Then there’s the way Dracula attacks her.  You could argue that Dracula’s attacks on women have sexual subtext in the book, which is why I get mad about the misinterpretation of the big scene between the Count and Mina.  But there’s no subtext in the movie.  When Mina finds Lucy at night, she sees the Count in his wolf form having sex with her.  Yes.  As a wolf man.

Later, when he comes to kill Lucy, it looks like she’s having sex with a shadow.  Then a wolf comes throw the window to basically bite her neck off.  It’s so over-the-top and bizarre that I can’t find it scary.  It made me uncomfortable in all the wrong ways.  I prefer the Count Dracula version or even the Frank Langella version that shows Lucy struggling for air with no apparent reason for her illness.  When it’s filmed as described in the book, that is when I winced and couldn’t look at the screen.

In the book, Dr. Van Helsing came to help Lucy as a favor to Dr. Seward.  He initially cares about her the way that he cares about all of his patients, but it doesn’t take long for him to consider her a friend too.  When Mrs. Westenra accidentally interferes with the treatment for her daughter, Van Helsing actually breaks down and cries, knowing what will happen to Lucy if they don’t save her.

In the movie, Dr. Van Helsing doesn’t care about Lucy at all.  He’s just excited to find an actual vampire victim that might lead him to Dracula.  He doesn’t even care about the feelings of his friend, Dr. Seward, casually calling Lucy a whore and saying nonchalantly that he wants to cut off her head and drive a stake through her heart.  His attitude is a little funny, but it’s also cruel and completely out of character.  I know Sir Anthony Hopkins is a great actor and normally I would call him a good choice for this role, but the role itself is not written well.

Oh, and what about Renfield?  Somehow I always leave him out.  But that’s because he never gets to really do anything.  I don’t have any strong opinions here.

The set design, the costumes, and the music are gorgeous, so that’s well and good.  The movie also brings back the diary entries by showing Jonathan and Mina writing and hearing them narrate their adventures.  I can’t remember if Dr. Seward is ever shown talking into his phonograph.  I think so, but not for very long.  Sometimes it’s awkward, i.e. Jonathan saying how unnerved he is by what’s happening at Castle Dracula, when we should be able to deduce that ourselves, or Mina reflecting on how “sweet” Lucy is even as she’s emotionally manipulating the three men at her house.  However, overall the diaries are well-incorporated into the movie when they do appear.

And finally, on a happy note, Dracula doesn’t burn in the sunlight in this movie!  HUZZAH!

The movie did do some things right.  But I’m still not happy about that romance.

Tomorrow, on Halloween, I will put up two posts: one for Dracula: Dead and Loving It, and one for the NBC series.  The dramatic conclusion to Dracula Month awaits us!

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