In the year of our lord 1442, the Turkish Sultan enslaved one thousand Transylvanian boys to fill the ranks of his army. These child slaves were beaten without mercy, trained to kill without conscience, to crave blood of all who defied them – the Turks. From among these boys, one grew into a warrior so fierce that entire armies would retreat in terror at the mention of his name, Vlad the Impaler, Son of the Dragon. Sickened by his monstrous acts, Vlad came to bury his past with the dead and return to Transylvania to rule in peace. His subjects called him prince, I called him father, but the world would come to know him as Dracula.
The legend of Vlad Țepeș has been many things throughout the years: a horror story, a legend of atonement and sin, a vampire chronicle, a story of romance and loss. However one aspect of the fact-based narrative that has rarely – if ever – been explored is the role of Vlad Dracula as a father. As I sat today watching the new Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures release, Dracula Untold, I found myself utterly enchanted until the epilogue section which will henceforth be unmentioned, with the movie that saw Luke Evans play Vlad Dracula the Father.
I sat down to this film with my best friend as one of our traditional Matt-Pippa movie excursions and so I was by no means depressed or morose when the film commenced. A happier and less depressed person would have grasped onto the historical or west vs. east themes of the film, which I did eventually, but for me, it was the sheer raw emotion displayed that caused my poor old ticker to palpitate in my breast. With the initial voiceover by the Impaler’s son (see block quote), it felt crystal clear to me as a slightly deranged and basket case of a viewer that fatherhood and the father-son relationship was the crux (no pun intended!) and the heart of the movie. It is – in short – what sets it apart and bears it aloft from the commonplace and slightly boring modern vampire films that have reformed the image we have in the 21st century of the vampire.
As a daughter of a delightful father, whom I adore to the ends of the earth, I am incredibly drawn to the father figure as painted onscreen, but as the daughter of a father who often did not raise arms and try to move heaven and earth to protect me, I was taken in heart and soul by the powerful and sacrificial father image that Dracula Untold created. I have no desire to detract from your enjoyment of the film and all its wondrous surprises and positives by illuminating its plot too much so I’ll endeavour as best I can not to divulge too much as I write now. That having been promised, the story about the drive of the royal prince who has to fight the Turkish threat and offer up his soul, his kingdom, his subjects and his reputation in order to safeguard his child is too enchanting for someone in my position not to elucidate.
Vlad the former Impaler who occupies the screen for the first section of the film reminds me of my father: at home in Castle Dracula during a ten year peace and happy with his queen and son having suffered extensively during his own formative years. It is the Vlad who refuses the Turks what they demand as the cost of peace that made me smile and almost weep in my seat. He defies the greater threat, a threat that has the potential to wipe out everything and everyone he holds dear, when the price of peace grows too dear. It is his love for his family, his respect for his wife and his unconditional love for his son that drives him from this point forward despite his underlying yearning for peace. The ultimate draw of the character is that his paternal and visceral need to protect his offspring outweighed and conquered his preference for peace in his land. I can only say that I would be very different now if in the 21st century and without the magic and the devil and a pressing Turkish invasion, my father had valued my sanity, my unscarred body and what my future might be above serenity in Theydon Bois.
So, you see during this film instead of feeling for and finding myself in the shoes of the mother, unusually and refreshingly for me, I felt more kinship with young Ingeras. This certainly put things in a different perspective than usual and instead of feeling the force of a natural maternal love, as I did in Brave, The Borgias and Angel (to name but a few!) I found myself in a role of vulnerability and the unconditional love of a child and feeling as a child does as my mind flew into the media and put down roots there. That is not to say that the feelings of Mirena never took rest in my mind – they did – but it was ever linked to the child and a child’s link with his father.
The questions that floated around my mind during the film were: what will my children do without a father to protect them? How can I possibly hope or think it’s possible for me to protect them by myself? Will I be enough? Is it selfish and heartless and unbelievably evil of me to knowingly bring a child – or children – into this world to face it without the love and pride and protection of a father? Understand that if during a movie that is essentially about a vampire prince in Wallachia, I can be ruminating those questions, precisely how unstable and mental I am and why I need this blog to get some of the crazy out of my brain. What is especially troubling still is that a piece of media can still get into my head and lay all its babies there and turn me into a blithering, blubbering, bawling shell of a person just because a vampire is a daddy!
So you see how the maternal-paternal-filial feelings have all come together in the aftermath of me watching this film to a head. My children – I know and promise to every higher power and the cosmos – will have all the love I can give and will never have cause to doubt their mother’s love, but what plagues me now is that although I will give them the best godfathers, uncles and grandfather I can, I want them to know that if anything should happen to me, then a father on this earth will fight to its ends for them. I say that knowing and being certain that I cannot ask nor expect their godfathers to do that for my children. That frightens me more than anything; that something will take me away from my children and they’ll end up living the same life I do, not knowing if anyone really loves me or if the world is really against me or I just have that kind of luck. Then, what I have sworn never to do and have often said to my mother, that I would die before I created another me, I will have failed dismally and utterly and it’ll be infinitely worse than failing myself or my parents or my friends because I’ll have created through my own means and by my own will, tortured children who will never be whole, all because I wanted a family of my own and then failed to protect them and ensure their secure future. That is what Dracula Untold revolves around: the legacy of leaving a safe life for your children no matter the cost or what stands in your way.
That’s why, I guess, I invest so much heart and mind in these sci-fi & fantasy shows, books, and films that have these awesome father figures that possess magical powers or vast armies or some superhuman (or all of the above!). Angel is the vampire with a soul father to Connor, John Crichton is father to baby D’Argo with the knowledge a whole galaxy wants in his brain, Noah Bennet adopts Claire and exercises his influence to protect her and that’s just fathers in Angel, Farscape and Heroes for you to consider. Vladimir Dracula as played by Evans, like Angel, other than being a vampire, alternates between being good and bad, light and darkness and right and wrong, illustrated ever so clearly in his final showdown with Mehmed II (played – vexingly, I might add – by Dominic Cooper) where the adage, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” (Harry’s Game, G. Seymour, 1975) has never been so apt. This is not least due in part to the fact that they symbolise a clash between east and west and Christianity and Islam, which I found a bit on the head due to the threat from ISIS currently experienced by the world, but nevertheless, it presented me with an interesting conundrum. Although Vlad is undeniably set up as the protagonist and Mehmed as the “cardboard” (Matt’s word) villain, in the final fight where perhaps conventionally. we would usually side with the man who didn’t sell his soul and his eternity to the devil, oddly, we find ourselves rooting for Vlad as he fights for his son’s future and to keep the promise he made to his wife. Much like Buffy the Vampire Slayer is ironic as it is now the pretty (meh) blonde girl chasing the monsters with a knife, the inversion of a supernatural heroic villain fighting a foreign threat who is – in this film, if not in history – represented as a bit of an arsehole for his family made me ask the question: can – and should – a father simply be good? Mine certainly was and is, but I don’t know if I would have the mental and physical and psychosomatic problems I do now if my father had had a bit of evil or darkness in him enough to wage a bit of a war for me against the arseholes (myself included!) that turned my life into the circus it is today. I know that Mirena is portrayed in the gothic setting of Dracula Untold as the stereotypical mother and damsel in distress and therefore, she is not characterised or shown, at least, to have any flaws or darkness within her – it’s all in her husband! So, the question of whether a mother can be innately good and sin-free never really entered my mind during the feature film, for Mirena does appear to be the perfect, almost fairytale if in an Angela Carter setting, mother. Vlad, however, in order to be a good father to his son (and, indirectly a good husband to his wife) is required to turn a bit evil, if initially temporarily and with the potential for redemption, so I just wonder if when a mother has a pristine soul, a father has to be bad, or if a father just has to have that hint of darkness in order to be the strong, virile protector he has to be. Needless to say, it’s something I’ll be thinking about for a while and I doubt I’ll ever reach a cast iron decision on my opinion on the matter, but I will say this: the darkness within my mother has never in my life been a darkness used to protect me and the light within my father has not protected me from her darkness either so as a future single parent, I aim to be a light shade of grey and thus tone down the darkness from how strong its pigment is at the moment. That is all I can do for my children: not be my mother and not be my father, but have the darkness of my mother and use it the way a father like Dracula did in the film for their good and to have my father’s light and accept it as the good in my soul the way the mother in Mirena does to counteract the strong and masculine darkness in Vlad.
I hope this article hasn’t bored you to death as I skirted around the plot of Dracula Untold and that I haven’t dissuaded any of you from seeing it, if you haven’t already! I will conclude by saying that we all have monsters residing within us but it is whether we allow them to have the active or passive role in our lives that defines us as people and as children and as parents. The right kind of darkness can be a force of light and the wrong kind of light can be detrimental. Don’t judge someone’s darkness because it is not an obvious asset to them – it may be the only thing keeping them alive because that’s certainly what the darkness in my soul is to me.