Sunday, March 14, 2010

Act I Scene 3 - Hamlet 2000

Ophelia is looking at a polaroid of Hamlet (in better days, apparently, when they were taking pictures of each other) when Laertes walks in. There is no goodbye here, only the warning to avoid Hamlet. It seems his only reason to be there. He is emotional, while Ophelia is impatient if rather silent with him. Her expression on the mention of her virginity is that of hurt outrage. This is a difficult point for more modern retellings (and the reason I don't think Romeo + Juliet works AT ALL): Today's attitudes do not put such a price on either virginity or "true love". In this urban modern world, at her age, Ophelia should already not be so "innocent", not with an older boyfriend in the picture. It is possible that she never had relations with Hamlet or anyone, mind you, but unlikely in the context of the film. If she isn't a maid, are her family members deluding themselves, preventing her from growing up in their own minds? Is the hurt outrage in part disbelief that her brother would take this view? This remains ambiguous at this point.

A word on "Polonius' house" - in actuality, a set of rooms inside the Elsinore building - because it is such a strange space. Austere and white, it offers various levels (at least three) of shelves filled with books. His children's rooms are part of this library, visually having them grow up oppressed by his "wisdom", much as a they submit to his advice in the play. We may or may not infer something of each character's place within the family from which level they are on. When we'll see Polonius in a second, he'll be on the top level, ruling over the family. Laertes is strangely at the bottom, but Ophelia is such a cause for concern, she may well be more important than he is in those terms. In any case, it puts Ophelia in between the two men, which is exactly right. On one of the walls is an odd assembly of praying figures(?) that lends interest to the shot, but remains mysterious.
Ophelia's first lines in this version are the "I shall the effect of this good lesson keep" speech, which substitutes "recks not his own rede" with "recks not his own creed" (as 1948's Hamlet did). This makes the line more accessible to modern audiences, but perhaps also widens the scope of who Laertes fails to listen to. His own rede is his own voice, but his own creed includes both Ophelia and Polonius.
Speaking of which, Polonius then enters from above, looks absent-mindedly at the picture of Hamlet and continues shouting out his blessing even as his son flees the room. He lets out a whimper, as if he really wants to talk to Ophelia about this, but needs to deal with his son first, before he leaves. Throughout the following exchange, there's a sense that Polonius remains distracted by that thought of Hamlet (he HAS seen something going on between them in the previous scene). It's a lovely comic, but true to life, performance from Bill Murray. Polonius is a meddler, and this is presented in the way he helps Laertes pack his bags. He doesn't trust his children to do well by themselves (and perhaps he's right, Laertes IS late after all). Ophelia, meanwhile, takes pictures from above.

When discussing Kline's version, I spoke at some length of the concept of a Polonius who doesn't really listen. In the wake of that discussion, I can't help but hear further irony in the line "Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice", just another example of the character's unselfconscious hypocrisy. The goodbye ends on an awkward hug, again complemented by Murray's comic timing.
"Reserve thy judgment", he has just said, but it looks like he's judging his son too sentimental with only a look (I couldn't quite capture it with my DVD software). Laertes gives Ophelia a hug too, and steals a small comb from her hair even as she doesn't quite respond to his affection. What could be Laertes' unnatural feelings towards his sister are explored here much as they are in his every mention of her hymen. As for her reaction, it differs from most performances by taking out Ophelia's own affection for her brother. But this Ophelia has a more modern reaction to denied love: Bitterness at being told what to do, but more than that, melancholy indicated by complete apathy and disaffection. She and Hamlet are more alike (and compatible?) in that sense. If he grieves for his father, she grieves for him.

The thought of Hamlet and Ophelia together must have eaten at Polonius for a good while, because we now cut to Scene 4 (Hamlet's meeting with the Ghost that night) before returning to the end of Scene 3. It is another day, she's listening to "movie phone" as part of her disaffection (on the phone, but not talking to anyone) and her shoelace is undone (she is distracted). Meddling Polonius, in the habit of fixing things for his children, sits her down and ties it for her.
The idea here is that she is a little girl and has been so sheltered that she really isn't very well equipped to deal with life. The bars on the windows are not lost on this viewer either. In telling her she can't see Hamlet anymore, Polonius is firm as a parent would be with a child, but seems meaner because he's really dealing with a young adult. This creates a cognitive dissonance that once again taps into "time is out of joint", with the characters' ages seemingly out of proportion with their roles.

No comments: