Dean and I watched this movie last night - I'd picked it up for $5.00 during my wanderings past the discount dvd bin in Walmart's. I'd heard it wasn't very good, but I wanted to see for myself. I found that it confirmed an observation I have made in the past, one that I go so far as to name "Mabuse's Law": Any movie that contains the author's name in a possessive form in the title
is a stinker. Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein'"(1994)
and Charlotte Bronte's 'Jane Eyre'
are the other big entries in this dubious category; I am always on the lookout for more.
You'd think that a movie that advertises it's connection with the original source material would be agonizingly scrupulous about adhering to that source. You'd worry that it might be SO close to the book, it fails as a movie. Not in this case. The movie hangs on to the names of the characters as well as the geographical locations, but then flies off into a completely anachronistic and ahistoric retelling that has almost nothing to do with the original story.
It begins with a back story about Dracula, drawn from records about the original Vlad the Impaler who inspired the legend. This is interesting, but it isn't actually in the book; Stoker wasn't that concerned about establishing a real-life historic grounding for his story. It also purports to show how Dracula lost his soul - he abjured God after the death by suicide of his beloved wife. It isn't clear how this would turn you into a vampire, but maybe after he was kicked out of the Orthodox Church he began hanging around with a bad crowd. The thing about these old legends is that they seldom have a definite starting point; Dracula wasn't the first vampire, he was just the greatest of that evil race. Evil is always around, and no generation is free from it. I always assumed that Dracula was "initiated" into vampirism the same way he initiated others - it's an endless cycle, an ugly parody of the way life is transmitted from generation to generation.
But nowadays people don't want to accept something as matter-of-fact and prosaic as "evil just exists". It's got to have a "root cause", and Dracula's was disappointed love. This attempt at "understanding" disarms us from the beginning; now it's no longer enough just to hate and fight evil, because that shows us to be limited and unfair. Cooperating with evil is still not approved, but now those who fight have to do it with a long face and regretful sighs ( not to mention "proportionate response"). In this movie, the vampire-fighters are only valiant insofar as they are ignorant - those who "know" Dracula (especially Mina) immediately become ambiguous about fighting him, and not because they are deceived and deluded by his evil spell. No, they know the truth, and that puts them on his side.
The movie changes ALL the characters, not just Dracula. The two women, Lucy and Mina, are unrecognizable, and completely assimilated to 20th-century prejudices and sensibilities. It seems the hardest thing in the world is for modern people to take the way people lived in an earlier era, and just accept the fact that they meant it
. Mina and Lucy were Victorian women - they thought and acted in a certain way, and part of that included modesty and reticence about sex. The director just flatly refuses to take them seriously. He is convinced that they acted the way they did because they couldn't help it, and he is going to set them free! So we have Mina and Lucy, in their first scene, tittering over pornographic illustrations in a book of 'The Arabian Nights'. I could barely exclaim indignantly that a decent Victorian household with young girls in it wouldn't even POSSESS such a book, before their conversation went on to "Do men and women actually DO that?" "Oh, *I* did it last night!" seethes sexpot Lucy, "In my dreeeeeeeams! Teehee!" It was such an impossible scene, I was speechless.
This character assassination of Lucy only got worse. She writhed and wriggled in front of her three suitors, who stood there like tailor's dummies. No decent man of that era would ever dream of marrying a brazen harlot like Lucy, but they act as if this is perfectly normal behaviour. I think I can follow the thought process that led to this total misinterpretation of the character. Anyone who reads the book is aware of the strong stream of suppressed sexuality that flows under the surface. The director tapped into that, and then decided that he would "improve" on the original text, by writing the story that Stoker would have
written, if only he hadn't been constrained by his era. In doing so, he reveals that he has a crude, limited imagination, and regards anything non-modern as somehow defective. Victorians repressed impulses because they thought they ought
to, not because they were helpless victims of their era. I'm sure individual people crossed back and forth over the line of what society demanded and what they personally believed all the time, but modern people act as if nobody but us ever had any choice about what they wanted their society to be like. Stoker wouldn't have thanked Coppola for "setting free" his theme in this way; he'd have been shocked and disgusted, and probably would have failed to recognize his own story. Repressed, controlled sex WAS sex to Victorians; it wasn't just a makeshift until the real thing came along in the next century. Rewriting it to say "what Stoker really meant to say" is ludicrous; it reminds me of an SCTV episode featuring a game show quiz:
Alex-What American writer wrote 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' and went by the name 'Mark Twain'?
Kathy: Samuel L. Clark
Alex: Ooh, no, Kathy, the answer is 'Samuel L. Clemens'.
Kathy: That's what I said.
Alex: No, Kathy, you said 'Samuel L. Clark'; the answer is 'Clemens'.
Kathy: Well, that's what I meant!
Alex: Well, you didn't say it! You have to SAY the answer to get the point!
The "sex thing" continues to bedevil the story, all the way to the end. Coppola can't seem to get over his own cleverness in dragging to the surface this not-so-well-hidden theme, and he flings it onto the screen like the bucketloads of blood that go with the story. The women Dracula victimizes are forever wriggling and writhing in orgasmic ecstasy. They never seem even faintly afraid of dying, let alone damnation - the men who come charging in with homemade blood transfusions seem to be irrelevant buzzkills, who can't tell when they're crowding out someone else's action.
Poor Lucy isn't even safely in her glass coffin before Coppola starts in on Mina. It turns out she's the reincarnation of Dracula's long-lost love! Even while he's draining Lucy dry, he's stalking Mina through London, and manages to capture her heart, while Jonathan is still trapped in the castle in Transylvania. That's another anachronism - that a nice young woman would start openly going out with another man, eating with him in public restaurants, and attending newfangled cinema parlours (where, naturally, the exhibits are pornographic peepshows). It's just so ridiculously out of synch with the actual era.
Anyway, she falls in love with Dracula, only to get word that Jonathan has been found and needs her help, so she breaks off her romance with Dracula and departs for Europe, tossing his love letters into the ocean as she sails away. She marries Jonathan in a beautiful Orthodox marriage ceremony, but this is undermined from the start because she's still hankering after her mysterious prince. It's hard to believe that we're supposed to regard Mina as a heroine, when she's portrayed as a dishonest liar, solemnly marrying a man she doesn't love, but I suppose Coppola regarded Victorian attitudes to marriage as as disposable as their views on sex.
Back to London, and the story starts to wind to its conclusion, as Dracula finds Mina again and starts to vampirize her just as he did Lucy. They follow Stoker's story pretty well for the brief part that covers Dracula's retreat back to Transylvania, and the heroes' race across Europe as they try to intercept him before he reaches his castle. Then the movie goes right off that rails at the very end. Mina turns against Jonathan and Van Helsing, and completely becomes the long-lost 15th-century bride of Dracula, trying to help him make it back home before the heroes can kill him. It's a close-run thing, and they manage to drive a stake partly through his heart, and half cut off his head before she holds them at bay. "Would you do the same thing to me?" she demands of Jonathan? Instead of answering, "Of course, if you became an accursed vampire like Lucy" he stammers "No." What the hell? Even Van Helsing falls apart at this moment, blabbering, "We have all become God's madmen!" whatever that means. No, I'm not even going to bother trying to figure it out. They leave the two "lovers" to retreat into the castle, where Mina delivers the coup de grace to Dracula, though why it's alright now when it was outrageous 2 minutes earlier I don't know. Somehow her love makes it all okay. And somehow they're "together" even though she stops being a vampire in training once he dies. The movie ends at this point, though I wondered if she walked outside and asked her husband-in-name-only for a lift back to London, or if she found that they'd already left by the time she and Vlad had finished their weepy goodbyes. I certainly had the impression that Jonathan had pretty much ceded all claim to her by the time the fight ended, and they all assumed she was going to stay there in the castle.