Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Juxtaposition Blogathon: Mina Harker

For my participation in the Juxtaposition Blogathon at Pussy Goes GRRR I though I would take a look at the various Dracula movies over the years.  But since I had gone over them in detail last year, I figure I'll focus on the heroine of our tale, Mina Murray Harker.

Now to be clear, so we are talking about the same character.  Mina is the character in the novel Dracula that married Johnathon Harker and is bit by Dracula, but does not die.

In many ways Mina is prototypical "Last Girl" of horror films, she could even be considered the first.  While she is still wrapped int he tropes of the female needing saving of the Gothic horror tradition, her growth in Dracula sets her apart.  Mina in the novel is a modern woman.  In the films...well let's have a look.

Nosferatu (1922)
We meet screen-Mina for the first time here, but her name is Ellen.  Mina/Ellen is very much the victim here.  In fact despite having just seen this movie the only scene I can recall with her in it is when Orlock (Dracula) is feeding on her bedroom.   She does hold the old vampire in the sunlight and kills him, but she dies herself.
Now Nosferatu had to deviate quite a bit from the source material in order to get made (and even that was iffy), but Lucy went from a integral part of the story to the roll of the victim, and purely the victim here.

Dracula (1931)
This is famous Bela Lugosi version and this movie is full of Hollywood glam.  Mina and Lucy (Lucy is now brought into picture) are depicted in their Hollywood finest.  Not too bad for a secretary and her idle rich friend.  Again, as with Ellen above, Mina is more victim here.  While this movie is closer to the stage play than the novel we do get to see some of Mina's character.  Now another change here is Mina is the daughter of Dr. Seward, a bit of an odd choice, but one that comes up again (and again, due to the stage play).   As in the book it is Mina that gives our would be vampire hunters the insight they need.  Also interestingly enough this is the genesis of the "Mina loves Dracula" sub-plot that we get in later movies, but is absent in the book entirely.  In the end we end up with Mina back with Johnathon and Lucy dead.

Dracula (1958)
The first of the Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing Dracula films for Hammer.  The roll of Mina/Lucy and the other women is reduced even more than the 1931 outing. The focus here is the Dracula/Van Helsing relationship.   This time Harker is engaged to "Lucy" and Holmwood is married to Mina.  Lucy is killed and Mina is now the focus of the count's obsessions. Again, Mina here is a victim, but she is a "preferred victim" now.  We see the attachment of Mina to Dracula that was hinted in the Lugosi version and made more manifest here.  Dracula is not just a predator, he is after our wives!  Mina displays some of the cool intelligence we see in the book, but this character is not really the same woman.

Dracula (1979)
The famous John Badham film with Frank Langella oozed atmosphere and sensuality.  Here "Lucy" is a wholly modern woman.  She has her own opinions on things and is at the heart closer to Mina in the books than the other portrayals.     Here is the fiancee of Harker, but is also the daughter of Dr. Seward.   "Mina" plays the Lucy role and is Van Helsing's daughter.  Odd changes, but again these are due to the stage play (which gave both Lugosi and Langella their careers.)
Lucy in this movie is viewed as Dracula's equal, or at least a partner he would elevate above the others.  Again there is the "love story" between the two that did not exist in the book.
Lucy is less of a victim here in the sense of the victim's role.  She at times is a co-conspirator of Dracula and even in the end when all seems well, Johnathon turns away from her and she watches Dracula's cloak like she expects him to come back to her.

Dracula (1992)
The last on screen outing of Dracula and Mina is movie that was supposed to be the best adaptation of the book.  In many ways FFC's "Bram Stoker's Dracula" does get it right.  Mina is strong, courageous and a modern woman.  This contrasted with the "weaker" Lucy who is still very much part of the past.   This is the closest to the Novel Mina we have gotten.  And yet we still get the "Love Never Dies" story line inserted.   Mina is Dracula's equal here and this is shown in the movie with her delivering the killing blow (as opposed to Johnathon and Holmwwod doing it in the book). In this Mina is less the victim and even less the co-conspirator of Dracula, though she does sometimes forget herself.

In both the 1958 version and this one Mina is burned on the forehead with a holy item.  The ways in which these scenes play out I think is telling in how the director of each movie viewed Mina.  The 58 Hammer film the burn is nearly gratuitous.  A big burned on cross on the actress' face.  In the 92 FFC movie the burn is a partial circle from the host, it looks like a bad blister is all.  In both scenes we get the same message, Mina has been tainted by Dracula's evil, but in one she is disfigured and the other simply marked.

Mina is a reflection of the Modern Woman in the novel while Lucy is more the reflection of the Woman of the Past.  Mina is the one that finds everything and uses the latest technologies (typewriter and even Seward's phonograph).  I find it interesting that Mina in the novel is more forward thinking and modern than the movies that came after the fact. In fact it would be another 100 years till we ended up with a Mina, in the form of Winona Ryder, that came close to the book.  Sure Kate Nelligan is great and very modern, but she comes up a little short.  Or rather, the director and script do not allow her character to reach it's fullest potential.

Last Girl
Does Mina qualify as the "Last Girl". Yes. In book she is the prototype of the Last Girl, she confronts the evil and lives to tell the tale.  In fact it is Mina that discovers all the connections in the various tales of the other characters.  In the movies, well she survives, most of the times, but she also confronts the evil of Dracula.

Want to read more movie Juxtapostions?  Head on over to Pussy Goes GRRR!

1 comment:

Laura said...

Hi, Tim! You commented on my own Mina post, and I see we are indeed very much in agreement over her character. Wonderful analysis! Melissa Stribling in Hammer's Dracula brings a lot of maturity and confidence to a woefully underwritten part. Coppola's Dracula may have its merits, but at the end of the day, the love triangle strikes me as just another Hollywood ploy to get people into the theater for the sex scenes. Which is a shame, since Ryder's Mina started off feisty and headstrong, but her character got muddled with the whole reincarnation angle.