2014’s Dracula Untold is the latest movie in Hollywood to feature the iconic character known as Dracula. Although, unlike its predecessors such as Dracula with Bela Lugosi or Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Gary Oldman, Dracula Untold goes out of its way to tell the audience that this particular version of the famous vampire is a good guy compared to the evil being in which he is normally portrayed. How does the film make this possible? Instead of being a vampire who sucks the blood of his innocent victims, Dracula (referred to as Vlad in the movie) is shown to be a mortal human and the prince of Transylvania who has a family and becomes a vampire to protect them and his people from Turkish (also called Ottoman) invaders. This article deals with two important questions that the film eventually answers in ninety-two minutes: How does Vlad become a vampire and how does Dracula come into existence?
The film starts out with a narration by Ingeras, Vlad’s son, who provides the audience with his father’s backstory, something that is seen on the screen – if Dracula Untold was a book, this would probably fit as it’s prologue. As a boy, Vlad served in the Turkish sultan’s army, killing hundreds of the empire’s enemies. After committing countless murders, Vlad would return to his home country of Transylvania to rule as prince, leaving his life of death behind. This is an extremely critical aspect of the movie that is needed to understand Vlad’s psyche – being a soldier, especially as a child, would permanently affect anyone. From that point forward, the film goes right into the action – Vlad and his men notice the helmet of a Turkish soldier in a river and fear the worst. The prince takes two of his men to investigate the soldier’s death at Broken Tooth Mountain and encounter a monster who murders them, leaving Vlad as the only survivor. Brother Lucian, the local monk, tells Vlad that the creature he encountered at Broken Tooth is a vampire who had his powers given to him by a demon. While the Easter feast commences the following day, soldiers from Sultan Mehmed II’s army arrive at the castle and announce that Mehmed has ordered 1,000 of their boys to serve in the army. It is never known why Mehmed makes this demand but it is slightly implied that he believes Vlad is responsible for the deaths of his scouts.. This is the core action that drives not only the rest of the movie but serves as the reason for why Vlad ultimately becomes a vampire.
Negotiations fail with Mehmed who now demands 1,001 boys, the one addition being Ingeras. In one scene, Vlad is even about to hand Ingeras over to the Ottoman soldiers but one comment makes him snap: “Frankly, I expected more resistance from you” (Dracula Untold). Family and the need to protect them is what drives Vlad’s actions – when the soldier said this to him, Vlad lost his self-control because he was confronted with the reality of giving up on his family. After slaughtering the soldiers, Vlad immediately knows what to do and travels to Broken Tooth Mountain. There, he meets the vampire again and requests that he be given powers to save his family and people. This scene is the most important one in the entire movie because not only does Vlad gain his vampiric powers here but it shows how desperate he is to get them. There is also a lot of dialogue that proves to be important to Vlad’s motivations: the vampire calls Vlad “Lord Impaler, House Dracul, Son of the Devil” and when asked why he killed thousands (and not hundreds like the audience was led to believe before) of innocent people, Vlad replies, “Because men do not fear swords. They fear monsters… By putting one village to the stake, I spared ten more” (“Sometimes The World”). Vlad admits to being a monster when he was a Turkish soldier but for the first time, the audience sees why: had Vlad not become a merciless monster, more people resistant to the Ottoman cause would have been killed. After hearing Vlad’s story, the vampire grants him his wish. Vlad will be a vampire for three days – if he refrains from drinking blood in that time, he will become mortal again; if he cannot refrain, he will be a vampire forever.
The Christian religion is shown to be an extremely important aspect in the lives of the Transylvanian people. This has proven to be historically accurate even today since “Most Romanians identify as Christian” (Too). The feast that takes place in the castle is said to be a celebration of the Easter holiday, a Christian tradition that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When Vlad’s vampiric powers are exposed to the people via Brother Lucian, they try to kill their own prince. Why is this? As Brother Lucian previously explained to Vlad, the vampire was given his powers by a demon so this, in turn, would make the vampire a demonic being. In addition to this, the Holy Bible prohibits the consumption of blood by itself: “But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat”(“Deuteronomy 12:23 NIV”). Because of scientific advancements, today’s society could even interpret vampirism as a disease: “In the 1980s, Herschel Prins developed the idea of vampirism as a clinical condition” (Olry and Haines). Since the vampire’s main purpose is to suck blood from people, it would make sense why the Transylvanian people would now be fearful of Vlad. Even after he is almost killed by his people, Vlad goes inside the church and asks for Christ’s strength to help him overcome the craving for blood. This scene falls in line with a quote by Noelle Bowles in an article about the original Dracula book: “ Stoker’s use of religious items indicates they are imbued with power beyond symbolic representation” (Bowles). Unlike previous Dracula adaptions, Christianity is not just merely used to stop Dracula from striking again – it is actually Vlad’s chosen way of life.
After gaining his powers, Vlad proves to be victorious against the Turkish army, completely decimating them all by himself. Although, these powers come at a price – Vlad now has a vampire’s flaws, notably the weakness to sunlight and silver. The need to consume blood is also strong in Vlad during his three day trial of being a vampire. This is especially seen when a mysterious man named Shkelgim offers Vlad his blood to drink. The prince, however, does not yield to the temptation with the hope that he may redeem himself from his vampiric state. Tragedy soon strikes for Vlad, though – the Ottomans are able to outsmart him and kidnap Ingeras, an incident that leads to the death of Mirena, Vlad’s wife. Before she dies, Mirena tells Vlad to drink her blood so that he can still have the power to save their son. Vlad complies just as the sun rises on the third day, permanently becoming a vampire. After having some of the Transylvanian people drink his blood, Vlad and the new army of vampires head to the Turkish camp and kill all of the soldiers with Vlad killing Mehmed and proclaiming, “My name is Dracula. Son of the Devil” (Dracula Untold, (9/10). So why is it that Vlad calls himself Dracula now? Why didn’t he say it sooner? The answer I have is that it wasn’t until now that Vlad had fully accepted his vampiric powers – he knew there was no chance of ever being mortal again so this was his way of accepting his fate. After all, Vlad’s words to Mehmed is exactly what the ancient vampire had called him at Broken Tooth Mountain.
Dracula Untold tells the story of a fierce warrior who becomes a vampire in order to protect what he loves and in the process, needs to become a monster in order to succeed. This is similar to scholar Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s first monster thesis “The Monster’s Body Is a Cultural Body”. Per the thesis, “The monster’s body quite literally incorporates fear, desire, anxiety… giving them life” (Cohen). Just like he did when he was a Turkish soldier, Vlad had to become a monster again to save his people from Ottoman rule or else his country would be enslaved. Vlad never wanted to be a monster but it had become a fearful reality that was needed to protect the life he loved.
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