Thursday, November 5, 2009

I.ii. Enter Hamlet - Hamlet 2000

Hamlet 2000 also presents a change of venue away from the "Court" (the Media, in this version) for the parents' confrontation with Hamlet. They catch up to him on the steet in a dynamic walk and talk that works well for this Manhattanite Denmark's hustle and bustle. Claudius hangs back as Gertrude accosts her son, and hidden from her view, he gives annoyed and impatient looks back at his bodyguard.

Speaking of hiding, note the sunglasses. Characters trying to hide some shame wear them in this scene. Gertrude never takes them off until the very end, and Hamlet takes them off when he bares his soul to her with his first speech. Hamlet is ashamed of his feelings, or else he would have vocalized them before now. Certainly, he's hiding his true self from Claudius who doesn't deserve to know him. Gertrude is visibly shamed by Hamlet's speech, in this version rather more aware of her improprieties than most, and so she continues to hide behind the shades. Claudius, for his part, is shameless.

When Claudius comes up to the plate, he's fairly rough with Hamlet, grabbing his arm to accuse him of unmanly grief.
The back half of his speech is cut (as are Hamlet's initial puns, by the way), but what's there is severe enough to make the point. And this Claudius has little time for his stepson's emotional drama. The walk-and-talk takes us directly to a limousine, an impressive display of power and control that thematically replaces the cannons shot at the sky, I suppose, and the parents climb aboard. Gertrude has finally taken off her sunglasses, but she still keeps a barrier between her shame and her son's judgment.
Once Hamlet has given his word he would not go back to Wittenberg, she gives Claudius a radiant smile. It's a good result, and she misses the tone in which the promise was delivered. What we have here is a selfish woman, who though she dotes on her son, still only really thinks of herself. Her shame earlier in the scene is warranted, she's far more a participant in the sins committed here than other versions of Gertrude (and this IS, after all, a more cynical modern world).

Before getting to Hamlet's first soliloque, the film presents its own invention: A silent scene featuring Ophelia waiting for Hamlet at Elsinore's indoor fountain.
She had tried to pass a message to Hamlet for him to meet her there, and he hasn't showed. Ophelia will be continually linked to water in the film, as a way to presage her death by drowning (in that very fountain). The elemental symbol is a powerful one. She is a creature of dreams and emotion, a condition that will eventually drive her mad with grief.

O, that this too too solid flesh would melt
This speech is done all in voice-over (with very few snips) as Hamlet scans through old footage of the original royal couple. So has discusses his mother hanging on his father, we actually do see it. His voice is more depressed than outraged. Again, this is a more cynical vision where Hamlet isn't really surprised by the turn of events, but is saddened that the inevitable worst case scenario has occurred.

There is an interesting detail in the footage we see. Hamlet Sr. covers the lense of the camera with his hand, probably annoyed by his son's continual filming. And that brings up one of the questions of the play: What was this relationship like? In versions where Senior's war exploits are mentioned, we can imagine an absentee father, idolized from afar, but not necessarily as noble as young Hamlet would have it. After all, we have a father who asks his son to commit murder, whom Hamlet for a long while suspects of being a devil. In this modern adaptation, Senior is not a warrior, but as CEO of a large corporation, he probably wasn't home a great deal either.

Hamlet scans his footage until, in the final lines, he comes upon a shot of Ophelia. It is at this point that he says "But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue." Very interesting. The line has been interpreted up to this point as either meaning that he had to stop talking because Horatio and friends were coming in, or that he didn't want to hurt his mother. Here we get a third possibility. Hurting Claudius (and the company/country) would hurt Polonius, and thus Ophelia. Hamlet's more overt (though repressed) love for her makes his decision to shut himself off from her more wrenching, and Polonius' claims that he is mad for love more believable.

We then cut back to Ophelia herself, still waiting at the fountain, walking dangerously on its ledge. It's a hint that she may already have a death wish or suicidal tendencies. We'll see more of her suicidal fantasies later.

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