The Beast That Once We were
We delve deeper into our psyches now, so deep that we go hurling back into our genetic history. What I wish to suggest at this point is a reading of the novel and visual reading of the last Dracula film that is as much anthropological as psychological, a reading that Coppola more than all the other directors recognized in the count and his story. Our impression of the young people in the center of the film—the impression we often have of children play-acting at being adult—may destroy the dramatic credibility of the film, but such an impression also intensifies and eases the return to earlier times that we unconsciously feel, to childhood and infantile emotions and imagos, to both oedipal and preoedipal stages but also to a vague sense of a kind of polymorphous sexuality and pleasure we felt in our childhood. We confront in this film something more than sadistic and masochistic desire; we confront a kind of fetishism that lies beyond Freudian fetishism. Here kissing is not confined to the lips: the chest and neck are even more central to pleasure and desire; here the drinking of bodily fluids is an act of nourishment, pleasure, and even fusion. Here one drinks and is drunk. We trace these acts back, then, to our earliest months when we were
so much creatures of our bodies, when our fantasies were comprised largely of bodies and physiological functions, when we functioned so much on a basic animal level.
But we must push even further. Recall, if you will, Stoker's insistence on relating Dracula to animal life. Van Helsing tells us at one point, "[H]e can command all the meaner things: the rat, and the owl, and the bat—the month, and the fox, and the wolf . . ." (243). More than this, Dracula is a shape-shifter and can become certain kinds of animals himself—the bat and wolf, for example. Coppola's film explores this ability, not only allowing Dracula to appear as these last two creatures but also on occasion allowing him to appear in a half-human, half-animal state, emphasizing that with all his human attributes he also is an embodiment of the beast that remains within us. Perhaps the most striking appearance in this state occurs when Mina discovers Dracula mounting Lucy between her legs, described in the screenplay as "a wet man or beast" (71), a description much akin to a similar one in Stoker's novel when Mina is unable to discern whether the figure leaning over Lucy is a "man or beast" (101). There is no question that Dracula in Stoker's novel and at certain points in Coppola's film is more like an animal than a human, that when biting flesh and drinking blood, when sexually violating women, he reminds us more of a beast in heat than a human lover. It seems fitting that sometimes he appears a wolf on all fours because, on occasion, his very act of lovemaking reminds us of our earliest animal state, when we were still quadrupeds, when the mouth had no limitations, when the nose and mouth pushed themselves into all parts of the anatomy of other quadrupeds, when sexuality, appetite, and violation were indistinguishable.
There have been numerous horror films dealing with our repulsion for the animal in us, a repulsion meant to defend against remnants of desire having to do with the animal state. I am reminded of horror films such as King Kong (1933) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), which deal implicitly with human evolution and which send us back along the evolutionary scale, forcing us to identify, to think that we recognize some earlier stage of animal life—suggesting that such memories and desires still remain residually within us. Perhaps the film that most directly deals with this fear is Island of Lost Souls (1933), where animals are turned into humans only to revert to their animal states. There are moments in all the Dracula films when something of this regression occurs, when something inside of us is unpleasantly stirred. Dracula is certainly a palimpsest, layer upon layer of psychological stages, a condensation of the very worst we have desired and feared. In some ways Coppola's film offers us the deepest insights into this figure, unflinchingly reducing his hero not so much to the beast that remains within us as to our very bestial origins.