Learning from Netflix's Dracula
Updated: Mar 17, 2020
BBC One and Netflix recently released a three-episode retelling of the Dracula story. The story begins with a young businessman, Jonathan Harker, coming to Dracula’s castle to assist with a business deal. While there, Dracula slowly sucks the life force from Harker. Harker is almost dead by the time he realizes what is happening and is eventually turned into an undead minion of Dracula. During his turning, we are introduced to Dracula’s aversion to sunlight.
The next act of the episode finds Mr. Harker in a convent being interrogated by Sister Agatha Van Helsing about his experience with Dracula. Harker recounts his story pausing only to point out that he recorded the story in a notebook. To Harker’s consternation, Van Helsing pushes him to continue telling the story without referring to the narrative that Harker claims to have spent so much time writing. At the end of his retelling, Van Helsing leads Harker into personal revelations first by asking two questions.
Van Helsing asks Harker to examine himself and upon doing so, Harker discovers that he is not breathing and is in fact undead. She then shoves the notebook across the interrogation table and asks Harker to read what he wrote. Harker gasps as the camera reveals the words, “I belong to Dracula” are scrawled over and over on every page. Harker recoils as he realizes the truth that Van Helsing led him into.
Shortly afterwards, Dracula appears at the convent and promises Harker an end to his existence should he invite Dracula into the convent. Once inside, he is confronted with crucifixes to which he responds that he is repelled by the symbol not because of what it stands for religiously, but because of what it symbolizes to him. With this, the three tropes of effective vampire resistant technologies available to the Dracula universe are introduced. The last repellant introduced in the series is terminal illness which, as the series reveals, is the only repellant which an origination outside and independent of Dracula’s own mind. For Dracula, drinking “sick” blood, is lethal.
The final episode reveals that Dracula, despite his seemingly unlimited power, requires an invitation to enter an edifice not because of a supernatural boundary, but because of self-imposition. The same concept applies to his aversion to sunlight. He then reveals that the power of crucifixes is not found in the holy love of a self-sacrificing deity, but rather in their ability to stir up his fear of non-existence.
The inner workings of Dracula are revealed in a final confrontation with Agatha’s great niece Zoe. Like Agatha 123 years earlier, Zoe guides the undead. However, while Agatha guided Harker towards recognizing what and who he was, Zoe guides Dracula into the reality of his continuous, immortal dysfunction by confronting and unraveling both his irrational, self-imposed fears as well as his fear of non-existence. The series ends with Dracula drinking Zoe’s cancerous blood while she sits in the sunlight thus killing a self-sacrificing Zoe and embracing his own fear of mortality.