Sunday, November 29, 2009

I.ii. Ghost Stories - Olivier '48

Olivier actually follows the soliloquy with Scene 3, placing it almost simultaneous with the end of Scene 2. At the end of it, Ophelia sees Hamlet from afar in the position we left him in, and he sees her. But more on this when we sink our teeth into Scene 3. The end of Scene 2 follows from that moment, with three shadows falling across Hamlet's way.As usual, Hamlet does not recognize Horatio right away, here because his friend is just a shadow. He must come out of his gloom to actually see him. Through the staging, the idea of a castle full of ghosts resonates. Not only is there a Ghost walking about, but the way the camera moves is spirit-like, lovers glimpse each other from afar, haunting each other in plain sight as visions, and the play of shadows seen here. Hamlet could be alone in that castle as shades solidify in his presence.
Unlike Branagh's Hamlet and Horatio, Olivier's don't share a joke at this point. In fact, there's an awkward moment created by Horatio when he tells Hamlet he came for the funeral. Instead of letting Horatio off the hook with terse humor (as in the Branagh version), Hamlet puts him on the spot, practically accusing him of being insincere. The Hamlet-Horatio relationship is much more hierarchical in this film, with Horatio clearly afraid of Hamlet and his moods. And he should be. Olivier's Hamlet DOES try to catch the trio in a mistake, quite confrontational in his "Then you saw not his face".

The whole matter of the Ghost is introduced as Hamlet looks into the distance, so that when he says "Methinks I see my father", Horatio thinks he really did see him there. An understandable mistake, if a bit on the nose with the staging.
Once the three men have left, Hamlet is alone with his thoughts once again. Olivier puts emphasis on the fact his father's spirit is "in arms", which we must look at. Hamlet Sr. appearing as a warrior (when he wasn't killed in that uniform) is significant. The spirit goes to war against the new regime, representative of old values bucking against the new. His last appearance in his wife's closet is the only one where he is wearing something else. In that scene, he restrains Hamlet's violent temper. His intentions are different regarding Claudius and Gertrude, and he wears the proper attire for each.

The scene ends with a fade to black, as if prompted by Hamlet's prayer that "night were come". And as we cut to night, we understand why someone who place Scene 3 before this.

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