Bram Stoker’s Dracula places emphasis on the stark divide between good and evil, especially in the beginning of the novel with Jonathan Harker and Count Dracula. Told through Jonathan’s eyes, the story creates a very one-sided image of the Count as the living embodiment of pure evil and fear. Today, vampires have a more mysterious reputation in our pop culture—they are seen as brooding and misunderstood immortal beings. Take the blockbuster film Interview with the Vampire, for example, which graced the world with Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and an incredibly young Kirsten Dunst as vampires.
There is a stark contrast of good and evil in this film too, between Tom Cruise’s Lestat and Brad Pitt’s Louis, but this contrast works more as a display of Louis’ humanity despite his vampiric form. Louis makes us sympathetic to him, as he is portrayed as a vampire who is capable of love and care. Before his re-birth, he was just widowed and in grieving despair. He does not forget this, and he comes to care for the little girl Claudia, his accidental creation. He strives to protect her from her youthful, unstoppable desire for human blood, but inevitably fails and is forced to watch her die by his own kind, sucking all the passion out of him. Like Dracula, the drama of Interview with the Vampire unfolds like a diary entry, but through the vampire Louis’ eyes. Narrating, he implores the audience to feel his pain. We see Louis struggle to come to terms with his loss of his human life—-he even refuses to feed on human flesh for a time, opting for rats and animals instead. The vampire Louis straddles the fine line of good and evil.
Stoker gives us no context to Count Dracula—why he is the way he is, or where he comes from. The image of the vampire today has grown to accommodate people’s want for a dramatic story, complete with a dramatic transformation yet more relatable characters. People want to be entertained, but also crave connection. By the end of the movie, we feel bad for Brad Pitt and are scared for him as Lestat suddenly re-emerges to haunt him in the 1990s. Reading Dracula after having watched this movie this summer (it was entertainingly bad), I find myself wanting to know more about the character of Count Dracula. I want to be able to see SOME redeeming quality of humanity in him (or maybe I am just crazy?). If we had the Count’s background story, would he read more as Brad Pitt’s tortured Louis? Today, the lines between good and evil aren’t as black and white as they may have seemed in the nineteenth century.
It is also worth noting the casting choices made in this movie. Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt are well-known for their looks, and each has been named Sexiest Man Alive at least once. Kirsten Dunst is also known for her beauty, which she evidently harbored even as a young girl. The pure beauty of all the vampires in this movie (luscious long-haired Antonio Banderas also makes an appearance) is important regarding the idea of sexuality in Dracula, as in the scene of Jonathan’s encounter with the three vampiric women, and the mention of Lucy Westerna’s exaggerated beauty in death and re-birth as a vampire. For Stoker, the emphasis on beauty is placed only on his women, as he describes Count Dracula with animalistic features: “his ears were pale and at the tops extremely pointed; the chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin….The backs of his hands…were rather coarse —broad, with squat fingers. Strange to say, there were hairs in the centre of the palm” (25). Pop culture’s vampires, however, are all rendered beautiful no matter their gender. Vampires are thought to be sexy (women AND men, now) and Interview with the Vampire corroborates that. In fact, how would that change Stoker’s Count Dracula if he had described him less beastly? Would it take away the sense of horror? Or does the idea of a beautiful seductive vampire give an even more horrific tone, since they look more like us?
Dracula now clearly defines the term “vampire,” including the outward appearance and the methods for keeping them at bay—garlic, stake through the heart, crucifixes, beheading, coffins. In today’s society, however, there is a much thinner line between good and evil, as there is a growing fascination with the study of humanity and what exactly makes people tick. Interview with the Vampire juxtaposes the classic gothic tale Dracula and raises questions of the meaning of Stoker’s story in a new context of the twenty-first century.
(Note: Interview with the Vampire is a book by Anne Rice, which the movie is an adaptation of—I have not read the book)