Mise-en-scène in Bram Stoker’s Dracula

dracula-dracula1992 saw the release of yet another film adaptation of the Gothic classic, Dracula, and although the production included huge changes to the story’s plot, it was titled Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Gary Oldman takes up the starring role as Count Dracula, Winona Ryder is Mina Murray, Keanu Reeves plays her lover Jonathan Harker and the noble Professor Abraham Van Helsing is portrayed by Anthony Hopkins. With this all-star cast and it’s huge budget of $40,000,000 I was surprised to see such a clear and obvious focus in the film concerning mise-en-scène. Perhaps most significantly due to director Francis Ford Coppola’s strong refusal of including any special effects that aren’t ‘in-camera’, the film relies much on the sets, lighting and props to convey ideas which is something, I think, is rarely done, and done so successfully, in recent times.

dracula shadow

An aspect of the film that is well-known is its cinematic trickery especially its manipulation of reflections, gravity and shadows. To the left you’ll see Oldman as the decrepit Count in his castle with his visitor John Harker during a scene that occurs at the start of the film. Although the Count has his hands close together in front of him, he appears to cast a shadow that places a hand of Harker who is oblivious to the mysterious goings-on behind him. This on-set use of lighting, which is part of mise-en-scène, is very effective for many reasons. First of all, it is a clearly uncomfortable scene since the viewer follows Harker into Dracula’s mysterious castle and meets the equally as mysterious Count himself who seems creepy, menacing and as though there is more to him than as it appears. The way the characters do not react to the shadows intensifies the uneasiness to the scene, and simultaneously suggests something about Dracula. At this point, the viewer does not know much about him but part of his horrific past a long time ago however the shadow and its actions suggests some sort of a menacing motive to Dracula and perhaps is there to lead viewers to think he has violent intentions towards his visitor.


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