Saturday, September 8, 2012

III.iii. The Confessional - Hamlet 2000

The staging in the modern-era Hamlet 2000 is cleverly done. Hamlet takes the place of Claudius' chauffeur, and so is able to hear the confession from the front seat. The confession, and the conversation with Rosencrantz & Guildenstern over the car phone. This is how he learns of his impending trip to England, and gets confirmation that Claudius is guilty. And yet, he fails to pull the trigger. Aside from the modern trappings, there is an important deviation from the play in the way this is handled. As written, it is unlikely that Hamlet is meant to hear the confession. He comes upon Claudius praying for salvation, and based on that and his reaction at the play, concludes he is guilty. He does not kill him just then on religious grounds. In this film, Hamlet hears the confession, but has no soliloquy to express why he leave the car without carrying on the execution. It looks like he's just unable to commit murder at this point, and that he might actually feel sorry for Claudius. After all, if he's unable to kill, he sees in Claudius his future self, a man having trouble living with the guilt of such an act. It may also be that the religious nature of Hamlet's delay would ring false in a contemporary, so much more secular, setting. However, a shade of this idea is retained for the viewer who would like to think Hamlet's reasons are the same in any era: Claudius' lines which are specifically about his inability to be forgiven are the ones said in voice-over, the implication being that Hamlet cannot know Claudius' prayers are null and void, or else he would have shot his uncle.

The staging also allows for some dynamic elements. Hamlet gives the steering wheel a turn during the confession, further destabilizing the King. His royal hand lands on the limo's television, where backlit, it triggers his lines about his bloody hand. Some of the images on that screen may or may not inform the scene. While he talks on the phone, for example, he switches channels from an ad saying "Stop living paycheck to paycheck" to a crude animated skeleton reading the newspaper, to news footage of Bill Clinton. Images of desperation, death and kingship. When his hand lands on the monitor, it is showing a vaguely volcanic cliff on the sea. The undiscovered country? The real Denmark? An image of precariousness? Director Michael Almereyda uses a lot of images on television screens throughout the film, most to simply evoke a feeling and theme, not to necessarily comment on particular lines.

Soon, Claudius is at the stock exchange, and it's business as usual, his doubts and guilt a momentary thing.

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