Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I.ii. The Wedding Banquet - Hamlet 2000

In this modern retelling of Hamlet, the banquet is a press conference, which makes perfect sense in the point of view of the adaptation. The new CEO/King announced publicly to the world (via the press, not the court) how he has stabilized the company (Denmark) and how he's not afraid of a hostile takeover by Fortinbras. In this way, the company is a "warlike state". Makes perfect sense, as do most modern transpositions in the film.

Claudius is played by Kyle MacLachlan, who is convincing as a charismatic but tough corporate maneuverer. He and Diane Venora as Gertrude appear as a younger-than-expected power couple. Their apparent youth and sexiness is a sign of the times. In the 2000s, people tend to look younger than they are, or at least strive to. This is important, because it really puts the lie to Hamlet's later contention that "at your age, the blood is tame". Difficult to agree with that sentiment when the two are still quite attractive and openly lustful with each other.

One bit of re-attributed dialogue: The line "For all, our thanks" is divided down the middle, the latter part given to Gertrude. This is clearly staged by the characters (it's an organized event, after all), but it's a clear symbol of their joining ("man and wife are one flesh") drawing her into Claudius' culpability through that association.

On Fortinbras
Claudius holds up a newspaper with Fortinbras' picture on it. In this modern world, "pestering with message" is done a lot more publicly, which can be said to have an effect on the scene. In a traditional staging, Claudius chooses to tell the world about Fortinbras' message, whereas here he is forced to by the media. In both cases, he uses it as an opportunity to show off, with more bluster than substance. The difference is that this Claudius is perhaps not as calculated as the Medieval one. Better at improvising? Dangerous when cornered?

While the scene is replete with extra stage directions for the non-speaking characters (which I'll get to in a moment), Claudius at least manages the ripping of paper he traditionally has to do in almost every staging (the newspaper). No Voltimand and Cornelius to send another message. They are scarcely needed since the corporate adversaries are speaking through the press.

A look around the room
Hamlet is visible in the scene even before Claudius and Gertrude. He's filming the event for use in his videos/soliloquies (this will pay off later). He appears bored and disconnected from the proceedings, with dark glasses hiding his eyes. Possibly all part of "holding his tongue" in deference to his mother.

We also get a good look at the Polonius family:
From left to right then: Bill Murray provides one of my favorite takes on Polonius, here already noticing shenanigans between Ophelia and Hamlet (setting up the next scene). Ophelia is played by the omnipresent (at the time) Julia Stiles, who keeps looking over to Hamlet, trying to get his attention. Liev Schreiber as Laertes is either aloof (he can't wait to get back to France - this may be one of those Laertes who doesn't care for the new king) or simply distracted as he too notices what passes between his sister and Hamlet. This is a problem very much on the family collective mind. Also note the ghost of Hamlet Sr. hovering above them in the background as a painting.

Through the use of extra stage directions for Ophelia, the film manages to juxtapose certain characters in a new and meaningful way. For example, on "With an auspicious and a dropping eye", we see Ophelia's own hopeful eyes drop down as Hamlet ignores her. A clever subtext to the line, but also one that links Ophelia/Hamlet to Getrude/Claudius who speak (as one, remember) the actual line. If there is a relation standing in the way of Ophelia being with the man she loves, the same could be true of Gertrude if indeed she was having an affair with Claudius (with Laertes as Hamlet Sr.). Hamlet Sr. is also a character that is said to be away for much of the time AND good at warlike matters. We're used to Hamlet Jr.-Laertes correspondences, but Senior as well? Intriguing. Laertes as a young Hamlet Sr. (a Jr. in spirit) further accentuates the brotherly link between Laertes and Hamlet Jr. and his treatment at the hands of Claudius (the faux-Hamlet Sr.) as an alternative son to Hamlet Jr.

As Claudius talks about being "pestered by message", we see Ophilia frenetically trying to arrange a meeting with Hamlet by drawing (not really writing - she's an artist) a note.
It is intercepted by Laertes, not that Hamlet reaches out for it. Though Ophelia is the messenger here, we're reminded that Hamlet also used to write her (she has a lot of correspondence [pun not intended] to redeliver later). The correspondence created here is then between Hamlet and Fortinbras, two sides of the same coin (heirs apparent with opposite methods).

The sequence made me realize there is a theme of messages falling on deaf ears or being intercepted in the play. Polonius intercepts a letter from Hamlet and later Ophelia returns his letters. Fortinbras' message is ripped up, and later his answer to Claudius' emissaries turns out to be a lie or tactic. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's message to England is subverted. Claudius' payers do not rise up to Heaven. Should we also see here the Ghost's message not getting through to Hamlet?

Laertes' suit
After the high of the press conference, we have a separate scene with just the immediate families. There's dancing and kissing between the newlyweds and Claudius overlooks Hamlet completely in favor of Laertes. Laertes is surprised, but unlike the BBC version, in which he seems to think Claudius is countering the natural order, this Laertes is distracted by whatever is going on between Hamlet and his sister, finding his way to her side and bringing her back and away from the prince in between lines. There can only be two reasons for this in a modern context: Either he loves his sister unnaturally and is therefore jealous, or he dislikes Hamlet for some reason, motivating his later telling his sister not to see again. Or it could be both. We'll see as the film progresses. Ophelia, for her part, is showing rebellious tendencies usually not afforded her in more traditional stagings, but that make complete sense in a modern context. It's something that will color her lines throughout the play.

The scene ends oddly with Claudius pushing Hamlet away (something edited out?) and he'll not address his nephew until they're later out in the street after the event.

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