Such a Beast: Sexuality and Humanization in Dracula

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Over the course of cinematic history, many filmmakers have attempted to recreate the chilling, unprecedented world of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Arguably very few have succeeded, for the majority of directors tend to avoid the pervasive sexuality inherent in the novel. It is a difficult task to achieve, considering the blatant imagery surrounding sex and vampirism, such as the reproduction following a vampiric encounter and the phallocentric nature of the violence committed both by and against these creatures: penetration is involved in their hunting, and one must impale them with a stake in order to destroy them. Readers are thereby forced to admit that Dracula is, in fact, a highly eroticized piece of literature, though whether or not Stoker himself was aware of this suggestiveness, we cannot be sure. The most successful effort at capturing that sexual energy on film has been Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 movie, Bram Stoker's Dracula. In fact, it has often been proposed that Coppola’s version is too carnally focused in comparison to the original work, which leads a viewer to wonder about the purpose in this overt sexualization. It can be concluded that adding copious amounts of eroticism to the film is directly related to Coppola’s strive to depict Count Dracula as more human rather than monster, and sexuality in his film serves as a balance so that the lines between good and evil are blurred. Evidence for this deduction is found in three scenes in particular: Jonathan’s seduction by Dracula’s vampiric wives, Lucy’s demonic transformation, and Mina and Van Helsing’s relationship during the climax of the story.

It has long been said that the most explicit scene in Coppola’s film occurs right at the beginning of the plot during Jonathan Harker’s imprisonment in Dracula’s castle. Bram Stoker’s original work also managed to make this incident highly eroticized as well, featuring such words and phrases as “voluptuousness” and “wicked, burning desire;” these descriptions, coupled with actions that featured the vampires “licking [their] lips like animal[s],” creates an unmistakable aura of sensuality around the scene (Stoker 42-43). For Victorian writing, this is an almost obscenely sexualized bit of writing, as emphasized by the way Stoker incorporates the word voluptuous no less than three times in this scene, which was a common term associated with carnality in literature at that time. There is a certain amount of erotic anticipation associated with Jonathan’s involuntary reaction to the inevitable, which hints at latent sensuality. However, in Stoker’s novel Count Dracula interrupts the vampires’ seduction before it becomes “inappropriate.”

Unfortunately (or fortunately) enough for Coppola’s Jonathan (Keanu Reeves), this scene is extended to the point where it earns the film its R rating. Rather than the “coquettish” approach of the vampires in the novel (Stoker 42), the movie features the wives rising from the bed, all three naked from the waist up, and immediately pursuing Jonathan (00:32:45). Stoker’s Dracula contains no mention of physical contact between the vampires and their victim, yet in the film not even ten seconds pass before the first wife slides up Jonathan’s body and proceeds to lick his throat and kiss him on the lips (00:33:19). This is followed by nearly a minute and a half’s worth of explicit nudity, kissing – including a four-way kiss between all characters involved in the scene – and amplified noises of gratification before they are discovered by Count Dracula. Also, it is fair to note Stoker’s depiction of Jonathan’s reaction to what is going on around him: his thoughts are described as “uneasy,” that he is torn between “some longing and at the same time some deadly fear” (Stoker 42). Coppola in no way portrays this contradiction of emotions, instead allowing his Jonathan to completely succumb to the vampires’ temptations without any sign of inner turmoil or indication of moral struggle....
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