Review for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, by Francis Ford Coppola (1992)

por: Ralph Vazquez

I have always wanted to publish a review for this film. It is my favorite film, and have seen it more times than I can remember. I could write much more about it but I felt satisfied just expressing these notations on plot and overarching themes of the film.

the key to the fancy of one lunatic…

-Dr. John Seward

The film Dracula has been made and remade several times in the last 80 years, but the version, which is the subject of this paper, is the version rendered by American director Francis Ford Coppola in the year 1992. In this film several changes were made to the original storyline by Bram Stoker, author of the novel in the year 1897, and it is complemented by a series of editing modalities that remit to the very early history of cinema, with the dramatic twist of it all being done in color. Coppola’s use of image transposition and his remittance to the Art Noveau style in the art direction and costume design, as well as his juxtaposition of color and old black and white film aesthetics creates a sort of spell that draws you into each scene, seducing the viewer and almost making him participant in the dramatic action as a witness.

The dramatic action of any soundly designed plot is described by Aristotle himself as “an imitation of an action that is serious, complete and of a certain magnitude”. Dracula by Coppola is certainly an offspring of that thought on the form of tragedy. It is Aristotelian in the sense that it seeks to augment the forces in opposition in the original story by Stoker. Coppola adds the scene in the very beginning of he film where the myth of the historical figure of Vlad Tepes is revealed to have inspired the literary figure of Count Dracula. This scene depicts how Draculea went from defending the church of God to the unspeakable acts that would condemn his soul to living death. He adds the suicide of Draculea’s bride to ignite the fuse of the drama that is to unfold. There is very little comedy if not none at all, and the only humor that can be observed in the film is that dark humor expressed by the morbid character of Van Helsing.

The story is totally unbelievable, but no less masterfully expressed as any truth. The format of the novel is carried onto the film, opening each chapter with a journal entry from the series of characters that are “involved in the strange events” as the character of Dr. Van Helsing says himself in the novel and the film when he enters the plot. Action is completed by the linkage between the situations of both Wilhelmina Murray and Lucy Westenra and each of their rituals of betrothal. Each suitors as well as friends to these suitors are siphoned into the matter of having to extinguish this ancient evil of the nosferatu or vampyr in order to save their lives. Wilhelmina is saved, but Lucy is lost in the horrific unraveling of the conflict.

As the plot unfolds I becomes more complex, as more and more is revealed about the nature of the character of Count Dracula, who out of the blue decides to develop interests in London from his native Transylvania. Upon the development of these interests he stumbles on a seeming reincarnation of his deceased bride, the same woman who happens to be engaged to his real estate broker, the character of Jonathan Harker. All this precipitates the tragedy behind it all; the fact that after stripping the character of Draculea from his evil façade we find a creature seeking love, an that the first crime he committed was against God by declaring himself as the victor after warding off the Muslim armies, very much like Moses when he took credit for making the water emanate from the rock. And just as Moses was forbidden to ever enter the Promised Land alive Draculea was denied the love of his life. In the film it is his ‘Luciferian’ pride, which turns him into an evil monster outside of the grace of God.

The action and violent scenes keep a tight hold on the attention of the viewer, and the erotic scenes serve to create a duality that is as conflicted as the very forces of good and evil. And the overarching theme of the search for love only adds dramatic irony to the tragedy behind both the novel and the film.

It is difficult to place a finger on the one universal theme of the film, but what is clear and evident is that the film is told from a Christian standpoint, and places God as victorious over the ruinous pride of Draculea. The character of Van Helsing towards the end of the film states “we have all become God’s madmen, all of us” and this could be a universal theme found within the mesh of themes embedded in the film. In the end it is a message against pride and unscrupulousness. It condemns the callous actions of Count Dracula and in the end delivers the unity that allows one to reach the conclusion that good will always conquer evil, through faith, sacrifice and determination.

The hero of the film is surprisingly not a male, Coppola makes Wilhelmina the sole victor over the evil forces of Draculea, and it is she, which terminates him, releasing herself from the horrific fate of living death. In the film there is a moment in which one may project Draculea’s victory, but it is all undone by the change of heart of Wilhelmina, whose love of Harker does not allow her to fully surrender to his illusory and powerful manipulation.

By Ralph Vázquez-Concepción

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