Oh boy. This is a big one in the Oldman catalog. I might have unintentionally avoided writing about it thus far because it is such a big deal in terms of: Gary’s career, Coppola’s post-Godfather work, the 90’s, romantic horror (or is it horrific romance?), cinematic beauty, literary adaptations, and SEXINESS.
He’s a real thirsty guy.
Note: This post is part of an ongoing project, the goal of which is to watch and contemplate every movie in which actor Gary Oldman has appeared (there are many, the man likes to work). Posts tend to contain reviews but are not excluded to that sort of framework– much like Gary’s career, I’m wildly unpredictable!
As with all MYWG entries, the following will probably contain spoilers!
- Dracula‘s ranking on the Oldometer: 7/10
- Gary Oldman character quality: He’s Dracula! DRACULA. He’s scary! He’s sexy! He vants to drink your blood and he has a huge forehead! As Winona Ryder reportedly said to him between takes: “F%^* man! You’re intense!”
- Does Gary Die in this one? Once or twice. But you know. He’s DRACULA.
That’s right: Bram Stoker’s Dracula directed by Francis Ford Coppola IS sexiness. Sometimes even surprisingly so, even though we are talking about the 1990’s aesthetic colliding with one of the most sex-obsessed works of literature ever.
I can’t say anything new or insightful about Stoker’s novel, but I guess it’s worth mentioning that it’s one of my favorites. I devoured a mammoth amount of The Classics when I was a teenager, feeling immense self-imposed pressure to read all the things so I could talk to smart people one day (hilarious in retrospect because now I talk to smart people all the time, but when most of that afore-devoured literature comes up, I draw a blank cause I read them at top speed when I was FOURTEEN). Weirdly, though I read Moby Dick, The Fountainhead, and Brideshead Revisited (lots of head apparently– yes that’ll be the first of many bad sex jokes, buckle up), I avoided Dracula because I imagined it would be dull. But I was very wrong!
Refer to previous lame sex joke
In my last year of college, I opted to take Gothic Horror In Irish Literature, one of the coolest classes of all time, taught by the wispiest Irish-est Professor of all time. He called himself a Marxist and he called me Katreena BARnit and his tweed-clad limbs were so long that he seemed to fold in on himself when he paused on his turns about the room. I did not have a crush on him, though I easily could have if he hadn’t been so intimidating. For class we read Melmoth The Wanderer (is this sexy? I have no memory of it) and Carmilla (gay sexy) and The Demon Lover (not nearly as sexy as it sounds) and the more horrific portions of Ulysses (decidedly NOT sexy, unless Cronenberg-esque body horror turns you on), all leading up to the big show that is Dracula.
Written in epistolary style (IE like a series of letters, journal entries, etc), it’s a thrill to read (not especially due to sexiness, but it’s impossible to avoid), and it gave me the creeps (again not due to sexiness necessarily). I wrote 2 out of three papers on the novel for class– one was about how gay Jonathan is for Drac (honestly a super captain obvious argument, but Irish professor really liked it), and my final paper which was a way more convuluted-than-it-should-have been piece about how Dracula works as a reverse savior/anti-Christ metaphor and a critique on the Catholic v. Protestant situation. I got a B+ on that, which I worked very hard for, because I loved the material and I wanted Professor Irish Marxist to think I was very smart.
Nothing on this blog is as smart as this outfit, I can tell you that right now.
None of my ideas on Dracula were new, lots of writers have broken down the story’s themes of sexuality and religion, but it’s still interesting to think about. I feel that Coppola’s Dracula leans into ideas on this track, making the monstrous Dark Christ-type figure into a romantic– he’s not just about sexy times, he crosses “oceans of time” for his girl, and he likes wind and a little candlelight! This sort of fits into the idea of a savior-type who loves the world so much he’s willing to sacrifice himself; he gives up the safety and comfort of his spooky castle to offer mankind everlasting life (albeit a dark brand).
But Sexy Dracula just loves Mina. Mina was his lover in a past life, and they had a Romeo and Juliet situation where she thought he was dead so she killed herself, and he renounced God and lived forever (I don’t make the rules). So he’s just feeding away on blood and souls in his big castle. Drac makes his real estate agent, Renfield (Tom Waits, one of my MOST favorite people in a genius casting move), go nuts and await his arrival in London. Renfield prophesizes about his “master,” like most prophets do, and eats flies, which is not very sexy, but don’t worry: yet another real estate agent is sent to Drac, and he is Keanu Reeves!
Peter Pan WISHES his shadow was this extra
Listen, Keanu Reeves might be sexy now, particularly since he’s accepted his limitations as a serious actor, but in the early 90’s his dramatic range was… in the plank of wood category, and good God, they made him try an accent here. He almost ruins the movie, which is not sexy, but (according to Coppola) he was hired because in ’92 girls (and probably dudes) would “mob him at airports,” so I guess young Keanu’s sexy-or-not-ness is simply a debate for the centuries.
As coincidence or sexy fate would have it, Keanu’s fiancee is Mina (Winona Ryder), Drac’s old love reincarnated. Drac figures this out, throws Keanu into his sexy vampire bride harum for a never-ending foursome, and prances off to steal Keanu’s girl. Then it gets REAL sexy as Drac sheds his creepy old vampire with a beehive look for a creepy young vampire with luscious locks look (maybe he’s born with it, maybe it’s Satan). He puts the moves on Mina, who has been having a crisis of repressed sexy herself, because she lives in Victorian London and that’s just what they do there.
“Oh, you beautiful babes from England (?)”
There’s also an important, very sexy subplot about her friend Lucy who sleeps around, and her many suitors (one being Cary Elwes!) who crowd around once she falls prey to Drac’s sultry spell, but all that was mostly just a means for the vampire to get to Mina. We can all agree that hitting on your girl’s friend to get your girl interested isn’t cool, but apparently it works, because Mina falls for Drac. Mina and Lucy are often contrasted when we talk about Dracula; it’s easy to see the virgin/whore dichotomy, but if we consider that the plot revolves around Mina, we can also see that split between Keanu (as Jonathan), offering probably a very nice future for the wife of a real estate agent and chaste lovemaking, and Sexy Drac, a suave yet animalistic millionaire who has been around the block a few centuries. Sure, he killed her best friend Lucy, but he sure knows how to please a woman– he’s got three of them back in Transylvania.
Drax gonna give it to ya
There’s also the savior thing again– Dracula, like a dark Christ, offers an eternal life to Mina, because vampires live forever barring certain inconvenient events, and Keanu, in contrast, offers death via a mortal life, and also his accent. Beyond that obviousness, there’s also the sexiness: Mina can live her repressed, sex-isn’t-fun-for-women-or-anyone-really life, or Drac can unshackle her from “all this death” and set her free to embrace her desires (mainly him. she can embrace him). This choice is made all the more intense because Drac isn’t just offering, he has all-consuming longing for Mina, which is VERY hot.
A cool trick, but this gets me real worried about his wig.
So, I get the appeal. I even sort of relate to Mina’s struggle. I don’t come off as romantic or sexually adventurous, and I’m not an active dater, but (despite what some extended family members might presume) I’m not asexual. I’m just bad at the whole thing. I’m socially capable, but it’s hard work to fake your own attractiveness, dating apps are horrific (not sexy), disappointments set me back, I have a long history of men preferring my more appealing female friends over me (I’m over it I swear), so that’s gonna leave a mark. But I also have a sense of entitlement and dubious judgement when it comes to love, so I don’t trust myself, either. I have straight up nightmares about marrying the wrong guy (not sexy at all). When this kind of pattern stretches on and on, you have to be pretty baller to break through. You have to be a Lucy! But I am not baller.
The complacency that I experience isn’t like Mina’s (would that I could have young Winona’s problems), but it IS a tired sort of repression that I think many single women (and probably dudes) experience, of being unwilling to spare the energy of participation because you dread the disappointing result. Is it really fear or self sabotage, as the happily coupled like to tell us, or is it preservation? How do you make decent choices about your love life when it seems like you have to relinquish sooo much of yourself– of your MOR.TAL.I.TY?! Life is too short to hook up with a cardboard Keanu, but also it gets lonely sometimes. So hey, if prime 90’s Gary Oldman with his L’oreal locks crossed oceans of time for me AND offered an easy (not to mention SPICY) forever, I’d probably forget about my dead friend, too.
Well she just got right in there
But even in rom-dram Dracula, as in life, things are not so simple. Good or bad or sexy, there’s a big problem with all the guys here in that their primary objective regarding Mina is control. Keanu wants to lock her down, but he cavorts with the vampire brides and expects Mina to stay faithful, even despite his lack of sexual interest in her. Van Helsing hypnotizes her to get information and/or make her behave. And Drac, that POS, he manipulates her with his supernatural powers. So the straightforward good/bad guy thing fades away, along with the anti-Christ reading– all that freedom stuff was just malarkey, and even a dark type of savior shouldn’t be about manipulation.
In the end, Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins– quirky-old-man sexy, if you’re into that kind of thing– hi, Claire) and his gang wound Drac, but the vamp collects himself and Mina, and absconds to the chapel where he once renounced God. Here, Mina finishes him off at his request (hehe) and he’s finally dead, reunited in a fresco vision of the after-afterlife (?), apparently, with his lover.
Yeah, this is confusing because we thought that was Mina, right, but maybe Dracula just sees what he wants to see in a potential partner, just like the rest of us.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula earns its title as it the most faithful screen adaptation of the novel, but its one major departure is glaring. By enhancing the romantic angle, Coppola (and Gary) change the traditional interpretation of Dracula-as-monster to create a romantic antihero. I don’t know that anyone is a big fan of Jonathan (Keanu) in any adaptation, but in this one the “good guy” doesn’t stand a chance for audience sympathy OR Mina’s sex fantasy. Van Helsing’s dogged pursuit of Drac pales in comparison to Mina’s flirtation with eternity; it’s much less good vs. evil than it is a tragic, star-crossed love story. The film’s unforgettable costuming and awe-inspiring production design certainly help, as does Gary’s very good, very dramatic performance (he personally cites it as one of his best, and most difficult).
You and me, me and you, both of us foreverrrr
But you cannot make bricks without clay, and while Mina obviously has alot of feelings for Drac (sexy feelings!), she still breaks free of his spell. She still decapitates him. In the book, the gang kills Drac, and Mina and Jonathan have a baby, and Van Helsing comes over to babysit– order restored. In the film, we don’t see any of that domestic stuff– Mina is married to Jonathan now, but they’re much wiser and more distant than ever (plus, post-wedding Mina opts for cavorting with Drac, where she is bitten, and thus “ruined,” probably, for Keanu). It would seem that instead of making the choice between romance and respectability, this version of Mina is ultimately denied either option. But maybe by putting an end to the demands on her slavish heart, she gains the true freedom she longed for in the first place.
Or maybe she’ll end up working in a hardware store/ communicating with Christmas lights
If I could cross oceans of time, that’s how I would adjust my dating expectations AND conclude my Dracula essay. Maybe that would have gotten me an A.