Saturday, March 20, 2010

Act I Scene 3 - Fodor (2007)

Scene 3 is intercut with various parts of Scene 2, every introduction in the play occurring simultaneously. In one corner of the room, then, is a much transformed "Polonius family". Fodor has already introduced us to Ophelia in the film's opening, through her death. She's a pretty young girl looking distractedly around for Hamlet, annoyed at her brother's comments about him. In Fodor's short-lived chess metaphor, she is the Red Pawn, equivalent to Hamlet's White Pawn. This is a status we're used to see Ophelia in. Her brother Laertes is the Red Knight, an homologue of Horatio.
If Ophelia is close to other interpretations (if a lot less respectful), Laertes is pretty far from the dutiful gentleman of the play. Plainly put, he is a brute with a street accent. He and Ophelia are mean to each other, showing none of the love and kindness we're used to, and his manner is somewhat threatening. She holds her own, but perhaps foolishly, if the next intervention is any indication. Enter Polonia, a transgendered Polonius, now the elder sister of a parentless family.
She represents a massive change from the play. Dubbed the Red Queen, she becomes an equivalent to Gertrude. It is true that in the play, Gertrude and Polonius both have Claudius' ear. Heart and mind, if you will. In this version, however, Polonia becomes a surrogate wife/mistress. Polonia is only different in gender, but also in attitude. As written here, her manipulative side is played up, and gone is the usual foolishness of the old man. She's at Claudius' side when she sees what could become a violence altercation between her younger siblings and moves there immediately. At the sight of her, Laertes brightens, and her opening lines ("for shame, for shame") are used to changed the subject.

It's not clear at this point if Laertes has an unnatural attitude towards Ophelia, but his relationship to Polonia is certainly disturbing. Before he leaves, she gives him a steamy kiss on the cheek that makes us believe she routinely controls him with sex. How far has this gone? By the end of Scene 3, you will be ready to believe anything of this thoroughly corrupt character. The look on her face as he leaves for "France" tells us she will miss him, and the way she then turns on Ophelia may be motivated by jealousy for the younger, prettier sister. The overall sense, however, is that of a character thriving on control. For all her seductive appeal, she treats Laertes like a little boy, handing out advice to someone who's not much younger than her. When she says "By no means vulgar", she knows that's exactly what he is (he is also quarrelsome, so he's probably a borrower, etc.). These are accusations nonetheless followed by "To thine own self be true", which sounds like Polonia is justifying her own selfishness.

Once he's gone, she asks Ophelia what they were discussing. Things are getting out of her control, and she must get back in the game. What were they discussing that almost unleashed her brother's fury? What kind of (unwitting) control does Ophelia have over him? As soon as she knows, she calms down. Information is the power she thrives on. Despite the transgendering, this is a performance/editing choice that is valid for Polonius. He too has a manipulative side, and playing it up highlights the foolishness of power for its own sake. That manipulation is also expressed in the way Fodor edits the film, with Hamlet's White Pawn card cut in when Polonia hears his name. Ophelia is nothing of the sort. She flashes to better times when they talk about Hamlet, brief moments that look quite innocent and even demure.
The party ends, people pass out, but the scene doesn't end there. We find the two sisters in a darkened room, some time later. Polonia speaks her order not to see Hamlet as she preps Ophelia's arm for a shot of heroin.
The way she controls Ophelia is no less disturbing than how she controls Laertes. As ever, the Ghost watches. This ties into the opening and Ophelia's overdose, and may mean he is visible to someone under the drug's influence, at death's door, or is Ophelia's hallucination (especially if we take the film as her last moments' vision).

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