Tuesday, April 12, 2011

II.ii. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern - Fodor (2007)

A weak Hamlet
Fodor's Hamlet - not to say William Bedchambers' - is weaker than in any other version of the play, and this sequence shows how the director has undermined the character in a number of ways. First, of course, is in how R&G - the play's notoriously weak characters - interact with him. Instead of fearful sycophants, we instead have short-tempered, bored louts. Hamlet is suspicious of them and antagonistic (he just caught them talking to the conspirators), but gets no real reaction from them except even more disdain and ire. When accused, they meet outrage with outrage and shame Hamlet for being "poor in thanks". The overall effect is that R&G are stronger characters than Hamlet. They win this skirmish.
There's also the matter of Horatio, who is at Hamlet's side throughout this sequence. She not only has her emotions under more control than Hamlet, sizing up R&G with, by turns, a steady gaze and the same kind of dismissive boredom, but she also borrows some of Hamlet's lines ("Then is doomsday near" and later, the question as to why the Players are on the road). Hamlet is not a whole man in Fodor's vision, he needs to be completed by Horatio. Where R&G are usual the "two who are one" and still don't measure up to one Hamlet, here Hamlet must meet two with two, and still loses the argument.

Whether you agree with this idea or not, there are interesting things about the way Fodor stages the sequence. Until an accusation is actually made, each duo is never in the same shot as the other. They are separate and, in R&G's case, refuse to engage. Both groups look into camera, involving the audience in an unsettling way (very much what Fodor is going for throughout the film, which also justifies his emasculation of the lead) and playing with the mirror effects inherent in the text. Reference to Denmark being a prison shifts our point of view to the Ghost, listening and turning his head. An intriguing piece of editing, as it links the idea with that of Hamlet's father being trapped in a hellish state. Denmark is a prison to Hamlet, but it represents much worse to the Ghost. Hamlet is also haunted by his child-self, another ghostly character lurking about, though much happier, laughing behind potted plants - a counterpoint to the prince's depressing vision of Denmark.

The cut from confession directly into "What a piece of work is a man", omitting further description of Denmark's putrid skies, turns the line's irony to straight sarcasm and becomes the accusation that finally rouses R&G from their torpor. As often happens with cuts, it reveals an intent that is more ambiguous when lines are distanced from one another. It may thus be true to say that Hamlet always meant this speech to refer to R&D, two friends who have deeply disappointed him. Not that Fodor in any way paints them as friends.

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