Film Adaptation: Dracula Interpretations

This essay will compare and contrast the three interpretations of Count Dracula’s character in F. W. Murnau’s adaptation (Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens 1921), W. Herzog’s adaptation (Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht 1979), F. F. Coppola`s adaptation (Dracula 1992) and B. Stoker’s novel Dracula. All the four characters have their own individuality, as they were created through different lens of perceptions. Regardless of the fact that the basis for the classical image of Dracula was laid by Stoker, each of the abovementioned filmmakers contributed their own characteristics to the mysterious figure of the Count.

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The first thing to be said with reference to Dracula’s character, is his outstanding appearance. The movies present a slow evolution of the Count`s ‘look’. Stoker`s Dracula is a “tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot”, with an “aquiline” face, “massive eyebrows”, “bushy hair”, “peculiarly sharp white teeth”, and “white”, “coarse” hands with “hairs in the centre of the palm” (Stoker 1931 pp. 15, 17). In spite of the latter`s weird ‘vampirish’ elements of appearance, he still resembles a human being. The author of the novel paints a sinister image of the vampire - the undead, endowed with superhuman power. He could easily climb quite steep walls, penetrate into the room through the smallest gap, possess physical force that is equal to one of several people, can turn into a bat, wolf, mist or even cloud, can control the weather and wildlife. Its appearance is slightly different from a human, but not much - his skin is pale, and his lips, on the contrary, are ruby-coloured, elongated and pointed teeth, he has no reflection in the mirror, and does not cast a shadow, does not eat human food, and is active mainly at night. He may move around during daytime - the sunlight is not contraindicated to him, but all his superpowers disappear in broad day. The author calls him as “Nosferatu”, which literally means ‘the undead’ (Bak 2007, p. 5). He differs from his double`s cine images of Murnau, Coppola and Herzog due to his distinct form of hands and fingers. From the movies one can get acquainted with the long-armed vampire with thin fingers, equipped with long nails that resemble bird talons, whereas the book Count holds hands with thick, coarse, short fingers, more suitable for a peasant, than an aristocrat (Bak 2007, p. 7). Dracula is a creature, being wholly owned by darkness and evil, who lived for several centuries, destroyed more than a thousand lives and do not intend to stop there. Despite his life years, he has not gained wisdom, but has degraded instead. He has a "baby brain", and is not capable of serious logical calculations and is easily exposed to emotional impulses.

Conversely, Murnau’s Nosferatu was deliberately created to evoke associations with rats, which spread their master`s plague wherever he appears (Perez 1967, p. 151). The Count is slow, his hands are dropped limply, his head is drawn into his shoulders, the skin fits the bone, the gestures are languid, his stare is glassy - in short, and Nosferatu resembles a doll made of stale corpse. His prolix, spired ears, long-drawn nose and beast-like poses (with his odd, sharp fingernails, his back crooked towards the earth) make Dracula look like a rodent, sniffing the air. The rats, accompanying Nosferatu, subsequently, also became an integral part of his image, and were often used in various film versions, for example, in the film by Werner Herzog.

Herzog’s Nosferatu is less deprived of humane appearance, as its predecessor; however, he still looks like a sort of a manlike rat. His image of Dracula almost coincides with the vampire; it is described in detail in the novel by Bram Stoker. The eyes of the pale-faced vampire are sad, his long sharp teeth and sickly contemptuous look cannot conceal the distress of a grieved man, who has almost lost all humane inner and outer traits. Herzog’s Count is tired of killing and suffering without love and sympathy. His feelings for a beautiful woman lead him to death. Herzog had no intention to embellish his vampire and draw him in a love affair. In spite of the Count`s attempt to build a relationship, the director did not deviate from Murnau’s character (Skal 2004, p. 306).. The most impressive feature of Herzog’s Count was his sensuous ability to suck blood with real unimitated pleasure. The vampire’s ecstatic delight, when he saw Lucy’s delicate neck and his ardour in the process of sucking blood may seem very similar to sexual attraction (Schaffer 1994, p. 385). Same Count’s appetence can be observed while his dinner with Harker – the vampire gazes devouringly on Jonathan, while the viewer understands that he wants Harker. However, a deadly and repulsive bloodsucker has nothing to do with romantic ‘dreamery’, though, Coppola had an opposing opinion.

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Coppola’s Dracula is an aristocrat in every respect – his debonair and courtesy towards the young lawyer, as well as his manners speak for themselves. He wears silken garments and emanates an air, worth his title of Count. The feelings of Dracula towards Mina are hardly understandable in human framework. It is even hard to explain, how does he look at her in Murnau’s adaptation – nothing more than on a delicious food. His life in the abandoned house that completely lacks contact with others, only emphasizes the Dracula’s ‘otherness’. Murnau’s Count is a fully enclosed character.

Coppola’s Dracula represents not only a Count, insatiable for power and human blood (Murnau’s and Herzog’s adaptations maintain such Dracula’s image), but unveils his inner motivations as a person, still capable for deeper feelings than primitive eruptive sexuality, or lurching and repulsive desire for blood (Schaffer 1994, pp. 397-398). Coppola’s Count crosses the line of a conventional vampire and narrates his love story, while making the viewer feel and relive an emotional conflict.

A different matter are the Murnau’s and Herzog’s adaptations. First of all, to their mind, Dracula is not a person. He is in every sense of the word, an ‘alien’ creature. It can pretend to be a man; perhaps, it knows that once it was. It is an unknowable and incomprehensible being. It seems that it can have no history left behind, it cannot impersonate someone in the past and appeal to one’s past. His logic and motivation of others, his image are repulsive and cannot be understood or accepted by people – he is just a man who himself crossed the line, such as Renfild. Accordingly, his "otherness" is emphasized in German films in all possible ways.  He has a strange gait, he is strange-looking, with his shoulders ‘at a slant’, combined with a nearly missing neck and hands with huge claws. He is depicted as rather a shadow, or a ghost, than a creature of flesh.

Coppola’s Dracula is much more elaborate. Coppola immediately begins with what was deliberately refused by Murnau and Herzog - with a monster story. He immediately binds it to human history. The audience realizes that Dracula is also a human. The viewer begins to judge him by human standards - as a hero-theomachist. His morals and motives are contrary to traditional human ones. They do not lie in a ‘different plane’, they are understandable, but simply unacceptable. Coppola’s Dracula is a hero, and may even be seen as a model of behaviour and a model for the inheritance that is unlikely to happen with the German Dracula. Coppola makes his character understandable and even acceptable for a man due to the one more detail. Dracula falls in love, and this means that feeling of affection is not lost for him (Schaffer 1994, pp. 397-398). In fact, Coppola filmed a tale of love that comes out to be stronger than death. The ‘rest’ of the ‘cursed man’ (as Dracula is perceived) at the end of the story, seems to be a natural ending, as a sad, but happy ending.

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For Herzog’s and Murnau’s Dracula, there can be no love throughout their life. In Herzog’s “Nosferatu” Lucy says that the lack of love is the most severe pain for Dracula, but this creature cannot revive this feeling - it is not available to him. Dracula’s humanization in Coppola’s adaptation appears in the following detail: Dracula is integrated into human society – he strides through the streets, visits the cinematography, talks pompously and is exquisitely dressed (Skal 2004, p. 310). This is a decadent, depraved, but lovable monster with supernatural abilities (Schaffer 1994, pp. 397-398). He is attractive in his own way. And, above all, he is a man inside.

I prefer the Coppola’s adaptation of Dracula, because due to this film, I understood its moral (Herzog’s and Murnau’s adaptations lack this essential moment). Dracula had two passions in life - love and God. God betrayed him, but in the end, at the moment of his death, he fixed his eyes on God’s image. Dracula has left God out of love and returned to Him for love. Hence the truth is - Love is God.

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