Have you ever stepped outside your usual emotional reaction and looked at something you love objectively? It can be a truly enlightening experience, not only about the thing itself but you as an individual.
My hobby of MBTI typing fictional characters has forced me to look at them more objectively. With Halloween around the corner, I decided to type characters from literary adaptations and “monster movies.” Initially, I come up with a speculation as to their type based on what I remember of them and then re-watch a film to check it. Sometimes, I reach the conclusion that my initial perception of a character is not the truth of the character itself.
Last night, I decided to re-watch my favorite adaptation of Dracula, filmed in 1979. This Dracula doesn’t go around with blood trickling from his fangs. He’s suave, elegant… and an unmitigated, heartless, murderous fiend. Considering Frank Langella’s Dracula is the most romantic incarnation of the character, that came as something of a surprise to me, but it reinforced the truth that people are not always what they appear.
Dracula, when we first meet him, is charming, social, and interested in surroundings. He quickly wins over everyone in the room. Twenty-four hours later, when Jonathan pays him a visit in Carfax Abbey, he’s like a completely different person – reserved, calculating, callous, and cold. This is the real Dracula; the other is a farce. We see the truth of Dracula in his treatment of men, and the façade in his appeal to women.
Fans (including myself, up until recently) of this sexy, charming Dracula like to try and excuse his behavior but he thwarts us at every turn. Our assertion is that “He couldn’t have intended to kill Mina,” when in fact, he tells us flat out that he did. “Mina was very ill, wasn’t she?” Dracula asks Jonathan the morning after her death. “I saw it when I looked into her eyes.”
It seems an innocuous statement until you remember his remark to Lucy the night before: “I despise women with no life in them, no blood.”
Our human instinct is to have compassion for dear, sweet, fragile Mina, who never did anyone harm in her life. But Dracula hated that weakness in her. He neither cared what happened to Mina, nor intended her to survive; he detested her for her natural human weaknesses, let her become a monster, and left her on her own. Dracula is a predator who can cast women under a spell and make them adhere to his will. The film is unapologetic about revealing this to us (“When I will you to do a thing, it shall be done. Hear and obey. From now on you will have no pain!” “And no will of her own, either!” asserts the quick-minded Lucy), yet it often goes unnoticed (or perhaps deliberately ignored) in our attraction to the charismatic Langella.
What this film (among many others) has taught me is that often I value and admire intelligence over goodness. I have a long history of unabashed affection for villains because in most instances, they are much smarter than the hero. Brilliance to a Thinker is like catnip; an instant rush and attraction. Intelligence is sexier to us than just about anything else. However much we may like a character’s goodness, a very dominant part of us is always going to be attracted to other Thinkers. The hero of this film is supposed to be Jonathan Harker, but he frustrates me with his utter stupidity and lack of conviction, which means that the intelligent, manipulative, and powerful Dracula is cast in a much more attractive light. It isn’t intentional, and it might not even work that way on other types (who will hate him just because he’s “in the way”) but it does for me.
Can I ever watch this film and root for Jonathan? I doubt it. But facing the truth about Dracula, while not undermining my affection for the film, has shown me a lot about myself.