The Final Girls Club is column that posts on the 1st, 3rd and 4th Monday of the month. It aims to take an analytical and retrospective look at female-led horror cinema and how these films hold up in the context of current issues surrounding gender, sexuality and politics.
Love can be messy. It can be the most powerful force in the world, for better or worse. It can make you feel alive, or drain all the life force out of you. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula directed by Francis Ford Coppola, love is the driving force behind every event that transpires. Opening in 1462, we witness the downfall of Vlad Dracula (Gary Oldman) returning from battle to find the love of his life, Elizabetha (Winona Ryder) has committed suicide.
Providing this framework, the film gives us a uniquely faithful adaptation of its source material but with added elements mostly in how the film handles the character of Mina Harker (once again Winona Ryder). Traditionally Mina is the fiancee’ and eventual wife of Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves), who eventually becomes the victim of the infamous Count. Mina is usually portrayed as wholesome and “pure” compared to her counterpart Lucy, who is portrayed as more rambunctious and sexually liberated. This time the mythos takes a turn as Dracula believes Mina is his long lost love, Elizabetha. The spin being that once under the count’s control, she doesn’t entirely dismiss the idea that she is his love reincarnated.
What follows is a struggle for identity for Mina. While her betrothed Jonathan and his partners Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins), Dr. Jack Seward (Richard E. Grant), Arthur Holmwood (Cary Elwes), and Quincy Morris (Billy Campbell) attempt to stop Dracula, Mina begins to accept her fate and false identity as Elizabetha. Almost wanting her comrades to fail, Mina embraces her role as a quasi-villain, the bride to be for Dracula. The climatic final showdown in Dracula’s castle features her attempting to sexually seduce Van Helsing, a far cry from the “innocent” Mina we’ve come to know throughout the entire film and instead mirroring habits and traits that Lucy exhibited such as a seductive attitude and overzealous sexual behaviour. It is at this point that the film provides its true ultimatum: is Mina who she thinks she is?
And that’s the true question. Dracula’s hypnotic spell over her, to me, represents the blindness of love. Love can be toxic, you can forget who you are to try to make a relationship work with someone who you believe you’re destined to be with. Sure, all signs may point to you belonging in that state with that person, but in reality you’d lose yourself in the process. When I was in a very toxic/abusive relationship, I lost sight of who I was. My interests, my hobbies, likes, dislikes, all controlled by or trying to meet the standards of a being that was literally sucking the life force out of me. Mina’s plight in this film speaks to me for those reasons. In a weird way, it was something I experienced first hand. No, it wasn’t as fantastical as vampires and creatures of the night, but the film provides the metaphor nonetheless.
The film climaxes in Dracula’s castle. After the crew fatally wounds Dracula, he stumbles back into the castle begging for Mina to set him free. Calling her Elizabetha to his dying breath she stabs him through the heart. Not setting him free, but herself. From the control he had over her forcefully, pushing her to act in manners not like herself. Mina’s plight can be a metaphor for letting go of toxic relationships and taking your identity back. For this alone, Mina Harker from Bram Stoker’s Dracula belongs in The Final Girls Club.
by Reyna Cervantes
Categories: The Final Girls Club