Sunday, January 10, 2010

I.ii. Ghost Stories - Hamlet 2000

There's a buzz at the door, interrupting Hamlet's soliloquy. It's Horatio, his girlfriend Marcella (the transgendered Marcellus) and Elsinore security guard Bernardo. It's our first introduction to all these characters, done in a way as to reduce their importance in the story. Bernardo's uniform places him at the bottom of the security totem (well under police and military). Marcellus, the role ripped from its soldierly roots, becomes an accessory to Horatio. And Horatio himself is a cold Brit with a modern accent, whose more cynical (i.e. also modern) relationship with Hamlet borders on the aloof. Hamlet is consequently a lot more incredulous (which makes sense in a modern context where ghosts are largely relegated to superstition). Instead of an embrace, this Horatio gets a curt "What make you from Wittenberg?" as in "What are YOU doing here?" Their relationship is harsher, less tender, but probably just as honest. In this version, the various cut lines prevent Hamlet from correcting Horatio when he calls himself a truant, and so we might wonder what kind of people this Hamlet runs around with. Certainly, his lifestyle doesn't match his parents'.

The story of the Ghost is seen for the first time as a flashback (a flashback we discussed along with Act I Scene 1), recreating a fog-bound Denmark on a black and white security monitor.
Though getting it second hand like this, we might be inclined to mistrust Horatio's tall tale, but the tellers' anxiety is shown through their smoking (helpful, seeing as Karl Geary's performance is entirely too stonefaced for my tastes). Despite Hamlet's misgivings, he doesn't really test the story, in large part because the lines refer to armor and beards and other details the film's aesthetic hasn't made use of. A strange mistranslation occurs in one of his final lines: "I'll require [requite] your loves" turns a promise into a demand. It works for this harsher (more spoiled?) Hamlet, but still sounds wrong to the trained ear.
For the short soliloquy that follows, director Michael Almereyda uses some tricks taken from Olivier. He has the camera follow Hamlet from a strange angle, as if representing the Ghost's point of view (another reason why we, the audience, should trust Horatio's story), and he uses voice-over rather than have Ethan Hawke speak aloud (pretty standard, and also creates the effect of the Ghost's presence, over-hearing his thoughts).

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