Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I.v. Swearing Oaths - Tennant '09

The camera work in this sequence is handheld, giddy, drunk and mad. The floor seems to tip like the deck of a ship. Hamlet comes towards his friends and walks away from them like the tide itself. This is an incredibly visual way to represent his state of mind. It pulsates with Hamlet's own sanity and with his alternating paranoia/trust with Horatio. There's good reason to believe Tennant's Hamlet has gone mad even beyond the way it is staged and shot. His characterization is very different from the grieving boy of the earlier scenes. He has just cut his hand, turning his oath into an even more serious affair. Is he asking the same from his friends? They never shed blood for their oaths, but they might well have thought Hamlet was going to require it of them. Even when he gets the idea of putting an antic disposition on, it doesn't look like he has far to go.
A good case could be made that this Hamlet is mad, but smart enough to know it. He justifies his present and future actions by turning uncontrollable behaviour into a conscious affectation. PR in Elsinore.

Insane or not, it's not all in his head. The Ghost returns, shaking the ground violently, bells ringing. In the stage play, they used sound effects to shake the seats, and mechanical effects to disturb chandeliers and lanterns. In the film version, simple use of shaky cam accomplishes the same trick, though it's not quite as visceral for the audience. Either way, it is quite clear that the director means for us to believe in the Ghost's reality. This is not anyone's point of view but our own. The two men accompanying Hamlet certainly believe in it and terrified, scream out their oath. Hamlet, for his part, is high on energy of the moment. He would hope Horatio could see things like he does and uses the more inclusive "our philosophy", but the sequence otherwise does little to bring Hamlet and Horatio closer together. They have contrasting attitudes, Hamlet's an alienating one. And once they've sworn, the men run out as Hamlet stays behind to say his final couplet to camera. The very last line is omitted. It would certainly have cemented Hamlet's madness for the audience.

A note on "There are more things..." from the director in the audio commentary: He rightly reminds us that this line also stands as an invitation to the audience to accept the weirdness of the play. There are politics and there is family drama, but there is also the supernatural and the more we dig into the play, problems and ambiguities. Shakespeare tells us, through this line, to trust him and go along with him on the journey. I accepted a long time ago.

No comments: