Friday, October 22, 2010

II.i. Ophelia Affrighted - Branagh '96

Reynaldo's exit is Ophelia's entrance, out of breath and teary. Kate Winslet gives an intensely emotional performance that prefigures her later madness. One thing Branagh does not do here as director is show us flashbacks of Hamlet's visit. He leaves it to Winslet to mime Hamlet's actions. This is a notable choice in a film that makes wide use of flashbacks to generate interest in scenes described but impossible to stage in the theater. The scene not pictured thus continues to be something of a mystery. We only have Ophelia's highly emotional point of view and cannot know what Hamlet's true intentions were.
One line did resonate with me on this viewing: "He falls to such perusal of my face / As he would draw it." It's a line that harks back to Hamlet's oath to wipe away "all fond records" and erase the book of his memory. Hamlet isn't drawing, he's erasing. In the unseen scene, he almost draws her back into his "book", but as he's sworn to only his father's revenge written there, he cannot. Shakespeare chooses his words well. It's as if he would draw it, but "would" is not the same as actually doing it. Also note the ironic use of he word "fall" in the same line.

Watch Ophelia as Polonius starts responding to the story. When he mentions the ecstasy of love, she looks up, hopeful. Does Hamlet love her? She would rather it be that than some malady out of her control. Polonius then asks "What, have you given him any hard words of late?" as if it's all her fault. It's not fair to say Polonius refuses to take responsibility, because he does in his last few lines, but rather that he can't at first see that it's his own fault. Even when he does take responsibility here, Branagh has him say the lines in an aside, not directly at the sobbing Ophelia. She is left believing it was in a sense her fault, or at least that everyone else thinks it is.
Ophelia crawls into her father's bed, which some will want to label as Freudian, but I don't read any incest into it. Rather, it's more mirroring of characters (this is the Hamlet with the Hall of Mirrors, after all). Just as Ophelia was mirroring Hamlet's gestures earlier, here she takes the place of her father's whore in his bed. This merely emphasizes the old man's hypocrisy and corruption. A few moments ago, he had a girl the same age in his bed, and this staging reminds us of that. At the same time, we have Ophelia in bed with her father instead of Hamlet. She's lost one and now has only the other (which she is also destined to lose), and both men are mirrored through the scene. Both are manipulators, of each other ideally, but of Ophelia specifically.

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