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Written by Timothy Sexton
The important thing to realize about Nosferatu is that it was an illegal adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula and not just some original vampire movie. Nosferatu shares not just the storyline of Stoker’s novel, but also the characters. Since the producers made the film without getting the permission of Stoker’s widow, however, they tried skirting copyright issues by changing the names of the characters. So when you see the name Count Orlok in the subtitles of this silent German film, you need only think of the very same character played by Bela Lugosi in the classic Universal Studios film. While the vampire of Nosferatu may bear little physical resemblance to the elegant aristocrat portrayed by Lugosi, rest assured that he is, for all intensive purposes, Count Dracula.
Thomas Hutter Hutter is the conduit through which Count Orlok connects his homeland of Transylvania to the German village of Wisborg. Hutter is sent by his employer to complete business contracts with Orlok and winds up being held hostage in his dark, gothic castle. In other words, Thomas Hutter is the Jonathan Seward of Nosferatu.
Ellen is the wife that Thomas leaves behind in his hometown and the women who becomes the focus of Count Orlok’s lust for blood. Which means, of course, that in keeping with the translation of Dracula into Nosferatu that Ellen Hutter is the Mina Harker of this version of Stoker’s vampire tale.
Knock is a particularly fascinating figure in the framework of Nosferatu. The audience first comes to know Knock as the real estate agent who employs Thomas Hutter to finalize the deal with Count Orlok. There is a much more tangible relationship between Stoker’s Dracula and Nosferatu than first meets the eye, however. Knock turns out to the German film’s equivalent of the fly-eating lunatic asylum inmate Renfield later in the course of the narrative.
When Thomas Hutter takes off for Transylvania to finalize contractual business with Count Orlok, he entrusts the care of his wife Ellen into hands of his close friends Harding and his sister, Annie. Due to the relationship between the characters and the fact that Harding appears to be somewhat well-off financially, he is usually viewed as being the equivalent of the novel’s Sir Arthur Holmwood, although the comparison is not quite as tightly fitting as it with other characters.
Annie is the Lucy Westenra of Nosferatu, although, once again, the comparison is anything but perfect apt. For one thing, in Dracula, Lucy is the love interest of Arthur Holmwood whereas she is the sister of Harding. For another, Lucy is a particular object of interest for the Count named Dracula, while Orlok essentially is unaware of Annie’s existence.
Bulwer is the Nosferatu equivalent of Professor Van Helsing in spirit, but it is a vague spirit indeed. Bulwer has none of Van Helsing’s extensive knowledge of vampirism and plays no part in the tracking down and dispatching of Count Orlok. In fact, he is an extremely minor character in the proceedings with a minimum of screen time.
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