Thursday, November 4, 2010

II.i. Ophelia Affrighted - Hamlet 2000

Hamlet 2000 continues to play with the play's structure in this section, while also focusing on visuals rather than text. Act II thus begins in Hamlet's apartment, where Buddhist guru Thich Nhat Hanh is being interviewed on the television.His text is not Shakespeare's, obviously, but it still informs it. And as Hamlet absorbs this media, it informs his own character and in particular, the "To be or not to be" speech. Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about being, and how you must work to be, or rather work at aiming to be. He says it's not possible to be alone in this world and that you need other people in order to be - your parents obviously, but also society and nature. It is actually impossible to be alone, but to be, you must aim to be. The implication is that you must embrace others and the world in order to truly exist. This contrasts with Hamlet's self-imposed isolation, so that when later he asks the famous question, it also implies another: "To embrace others or cut myself off from them." There is death, and there is the death-like state of being forgotten, being apart. In the modern world of the film, where characters are motivated by an individualism not valued in Elizabethan times, being forgotten is just as ignoble an end (Hamlet and Ophelia in particular are artists). It gives new dimension to Hamlet's distress at his father having been forgotten. The scene gives impetus for Hamlet to go and see Ophelia so that he may share himself and "be", though it thematically culminates later in the line "now I am alone". Hamlet's existential struggle is to subsume himself into his role of avenger even though his personality is too great to be so smothered.

But back to the scene... While Thich Nhat Hanh speaks on the television, Hamlet is also holding a small video player where he watches one of his short films. It is Ophelia, hiding her face with a book jacket (and an old man's face - can she ever be separated from her father? Is confiding in her tantamount to confessing to him?), and the book's title perhaps too pointedly being called "Living Dying".
Hamlet is surrounded by media - of his own devising and not - and it helps craft his way of thinking. Does this Hamlet ask himself "To be or not to be" if an Asian guru does not plant the idea in his head? Does he link the speech to his situation if that guru does not mention father and mother among his examples? Does he link the concept to suicide if he is not simultaneously looking at that book jacket? And does he go see Ophelia if those two pieces of media are not played one against the other? Hamlet 2000 presents a character whose thoughts may not be his own, or at least whose environment pushes him towards certain resolutions. In the past, we might have called this destiny. Today, psychology seems a clearer motivator of human affairs. Hamlet receives "messages" or "prods" not from some divine/wicked agency, but from the media that surrounds him.
Wherever the impetus comes from, Hamlet is next seen in a diner attempting to write poetry for Ophelia. The text is the one normally read by Polonius to the King and Queen, though we do see Hamlet ripping up some of the pages, apparently finding his phrases as vile as Polonius does. The text continues in voice-over while Hamlet walks past Ophelia's building, turns around, hesitates, and finally decides to go in. Across the street from Ophelia's is a supermarket decorated in Halloween imagery.
This gives the director an opportunity to create/sustain a funereal and supernatural atmosphere.

Inside, we find Ophelia not sowing, but developing film in her darkroom. The red lighting associates Ophelia to love, pain and blood. In the film, she initially wears a lot of red, though it becomes grayer and then black as time goes on. It's her color, and Hamlet is in her world.
The scene doesn't follow Ophelia's description from the text, though it is just as silent. In this case, Hamlet gives her the poem to read in addition to the usual clutching and sighing. That's an important choice. In the text, we don't know when Hamlet might have written the piece of poetry, but it's suggested it comes from before his breakdown. In this version, it is a product of the isolation he feels after learning of his father's murder. He cannot say the words to her, but codes them in a poem to let her know how he still feels about her. It is only Polonius' appearance at the door that interrupts the scene (Polonius goes to his daughter rather than the reverse - an interfering parent and a child that wants none of that interference and so doesn't run to HIM), and Hamlet's quest for comfort. Perhaps he would have found an ally in Ophelia, but it's not meant to be. In the original play, Hamlet comes to this realization alone. Here, it is forced upon him. He is a weaker version of Hamlet for it.

Polonius arrives with balloons for his daughter, reducing her to the status of a child, although what can we say about the balloon with a dollar on it? It is another visual (and one could argue, a bit too obvious) flourish to show Polonius' ties to the Denmark corporation, his faulty priorities, and his lack of understanding of his daughter's nature. When Hamlet sees him, he kisses Ophelia one last time and flees, embarrassed. The poem drops to the ground, and Polonius grabs it and reads it. This will make a liar out of him when he tells the King and Queen his daughter dutifully gave it to him.

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