I complained in my previous entry about Dracula 2000 that it didn’t live up to its potential and that a lot of it was pretty campy. But it did cause me to think a little bit more about the ways in which religion, the Catholic church in particular, gets leveraged in vampire movies and literature. It also made me wonder why we’re so interested in Judas. Or rather why Judas has become such a sympathetic character. I’m afraid I have to give away one of the secrets of the movie here, but it’s really not all that much of a secret. The “twist” in Dracula 2000 is that Dracula is actually Judas and that the reason that vampires are vulnerable to crucifixes and silver (although I think that’s more werewolves) is because Judas betrayed Jesus to the cross and he was paid in silver. Once Dracula’s “true” identity, is revealed, we are lead to two scenes that are sort of interesting.
In the first scene, Mary Van Hellsing, our heroine, and her handsome protector Simon, are at her church, searching through old books from the library. They realize that Dracula knows Aramaic. As Mary ponders that fact, while gazing at a painting of The Last Supper, all the pieces fall into place. Then, Dracula himself suddenly appears in the church library. At first, both Mary and Simon (Simon Peter, perhaps? Judas’s opposite?) are shocked that Dracula/ Judas can even be in the church. Crucifixes and holy water, Dracula explains, only work when used by “true believers.” A similar scene played out at the beginning of the film in which Simon tries to use a crucifix against a vampire. The vampire scoffs and says, “That won’t work on me. I’m an atheist.” A new twist on faith, for sure. But these two scenes certainly suggest that vampires really cannot exist apart from the church. They are believers and not believers. Essentially, the movie implies that vampires believe in God and it is that that makes religious items powerful against them. In the original novel Dracula, the religious items that Van Hellsing supplies the band of vampire hunters with are really more superstitious or occult items. Van Hellsing, being a Dutchman, is a figure that is both on the cutting edge of science (as exemplified by his knowledge of blood transfusions) as well as being well-versed in the things that lie outside the bounds of reason and knowledge. But when Van Hellsing chides Seward for having a closed mind because he does not considering a mythical creature like a vampire as a possible explanation for Lucy’s death, he’s not, properly speaking, talking about religious faith. It makes sense that holy water and crucifixes would be occult items rather than religious items because they are implements of the Catholic church and the novel Dracula is set in London. We never really know whether or not Arthur, Seward, Quincy, and Jonathon are men of faith but they use the communion wafers and crosses well enough.
But again, this is not the way in which such religious items work in Dracula 2000. In the movie, it is imperative for Mary and Simon to believe in God because otherwise their crosses will not work to stop Dracula. And Dracula/ Judas clearly believes in them too.
The other scene in the movie that I found interesting is the big climatic resolution scene — the scene in which it seems like Dracula/ Judas is going to win after all but then, by some miracle, Mary is able to save the day. Dracula/ Judas takes Mary to the roof of a building that happens to have this huge electric Jesus on a cross on it. Dracula/ Judas explains, then, how painful it was to be the one to betray Jesus. It was not something he asked for, he says, not something he would have chosen. So essentially, from Dracula/ Judas’s perspective, God is the betrayer, the one who is unjust and unkind — God turned his back on him, so he turns his back on God. Furthermore, Dracula/ Judas’s revenge is to offer humans the same thing that the crucified Christ does — eternal life through the blood. Dracula’s blood also brings eternal life. And his salvation is even better because one doesn’t have to give up any pleasure, lust, or desire to gain immortality. “I can give them everything they ever wanted,” Dracula explains (all of this is taking place during a Mardi Gras parade, of course). Dracula and Mary then have their show down, Mary realizes that the only way to really kill Dracula is to hang him, like Judas, and then with his dying breath, he “releases” Mary from being a half-vampire and dies having done one unselfish deed.
What’s interesting about this is not only that it makes Dracula sympathetic at the end (he was a good guy after all!), but it makes Judas a sympathetic character. It seems to me that this is a pretty common cultural perspective these days. For some reason, we don’t like the idea that Judas had to be the fall guy. That leads to all kinds of alternative narratives in which Judas becomes “necessary” for the salvation of the world and there is to be praised, or that God is the mean one and Judas is the victim, and so forth. In Dracula 2000, the fact that Dracula is actually Judas and that his whole vampiric life has been to compete with the salvation that Jesus offers makes the audience think, “Sheesh! So vampires are really all God’s fault! Judas just wanted to be loved. Being a vampire is just his way of acting out.”
My beloved manga series Hellsing also plays with the idea that Alucard believes in God and that Judas is actually a necessary part of the Catholic church insofar as Alucard’s nemesis Father Anderson is the head of Section XIII Iscariot. When we get to the final three-way show down between Alucard/ the Hellsing Organization, the Catholic church, and the Nazis (yes, I said the Nazis….. sigh…..), Father Anderson leads Section XIII Iscariot through a sort of pledge (I like to think of it as the Section XIII Iscariot Roll Call — it’s fun that way. Plus, Father Anderson is Scottish so imagine his brogue, ie. “they” = “thy.” He rocks):
Anderson: We ask o’thee. Whit art thou?!
Section XIII: We art Iscariot. The zealot Judas!!!
A: In that case, Iscariot, we ask o’thee . . . whit does thou hold in they right hand?!
S: Daggers and poisons!
A: In that case, Iscariot, we ask o’thee . . . whit dost thou hold in they left hand?!
S: Thirty silver pieces!!! And a rope!!!
A: In that case!! In that case, Iscariot. WHIT ART THOU?!
S: As apostles yet not as apostles. As believers yet not as believers. As adherents yet not as adherents. As traitors yet not as traitors. We art disciples of death. The Death Disciple Group. Only bowing and praying forgiveness of the Lord. Only bowing and defeating the enemies of the Lord. Wielding our dagger in the night and poisoning the evening meal. WE ART ASSASSINS. THE ASSASSIN JUDAS!!! When the time comes we shalt cast our thirty silver pieces at the altar and hang our head from our rope. Thereby we shalt fall to hell in cabal. Line up in square formation. . . We seek to do battle with the seven million, four-hundred-five thousand, nine hundred twenty-six demons of Hell.”
Essentially, by being not apostles, they are the ultimate apostles. They not only seek to kill God’s enemies on Earth, but they will commit suicide so that they might be condemned to Hell, and there they can keep fighting God’s enemies. Their fervor for God and their commitment knows absolutely no bounds. Their desire to seek no peace in death, no heavenly reward is testament to their hyperbolic faith. Furthermore, even though they proclaim themselves as God’s hand of judgment, their desire to continue to punish the wicked and the demons in Hell means that there is no total justice or forgiveness possible. There is never enough violence or blood shed to pay for it all (which, of course, is why we need Christ, but that’s not a concern of the manga). And, perhaps surprisingly, Alucard really respects their bizarre, hyperbolic, violent faith.
So, Dracula was originally Judas but God betrayed him and Judas the Betrayer demonstrates his faith and devotion through his very act of betrayal. Either way, it seems like the narratives want to make Judas something other than the Judas that Dante imprisoned in the deepest level of Hell.