Sunday, November 25, 2012

III.iv. The Closet Scene - Hamlet 2000

It must be said that Hamlet 2000 cuts out many lines, for time as much as anachronism, but these do create dialog juxtapositions that can, at times, illuminate the text. And as usual, part of the joy of watching the play translated into a contemporary setting is to see modern props, settings and attitudes used to give well-known scenes a new spin. The setting in this case is an odd bedroom, the bed's backboard right to a wall of skyscraper windows, no curtains (this later causes a technical hiccup when the boom microphone becomes visible in its reflection, but that's neither here nor there). A kind of tower from which the Royals can survey the realm, but also one where their incestuous debauchery would be visible to everyone. They are clearly shameless, and shame (or lack of it) is an important theme in this scene. As we come into it, it is set up like a bedroom farce. Polonius is sitting on the bed and rushes off to a mirrored closet, coming out again comically to grab his forgotten coat. There may not be something going on between Gertrude and Polonius (at least, we hope not), and Bill Murray's effete performance takes us away from any post-coital thoughts, but he is acting as the King's proxy and at least creating the image of an affair, perhaps an echo of Gertrude's original adultery.

Hamlet walks into her apartment and immediately moves to the bedroom, which is a bit suspect, but makes sense if he thinks to find Claudius there, or plans to accuse his mother of adultery in full sight of the bed (which seems a bit calculated for this particular Hamlet, but is still possible). He angers her and gets slapped, hard, at which points he actually uses the closet door to "set [her] up a glass", literally showing her her own sin. When Polonius starts shouting, it's not a dagger Hamlet pulls out, but a pistol, and he shoots through the mirror, breaking its reflection and, in effect, his family's status quo. Polonius walks out, having been shot through the eye, before collapsing.
This is one instance where the modern trappings can create an image the original props would have had difficulty with. Here we have a spy ironically shot through the eye, and layering in more irony, that spy can be called a blind fool. Gertrude seems surprised at her son's subsequent accusation, so despite her rather callous manner prior to this, she appears not to have been in on her husband's murder. Scared for her life, she attempts to grab the telephone, at which point Hamlet uses the "wringing of your hands" line to take it away from her. He jumps on the bed, throwing up the covers, grabs her and chokes her with the bedspread, he gives in to violence, but not to Oedipal lust (thankfully). In this adaptation, the Queen isn't shown the presentment of two brothers, the momentum is kept through movement, not words.
The Ghost appears to Hamlet as Gertrude is ready to pass out, sitting in the room. The cuts juxtapose "he glares" with "Do not look at me!", putting the focus on Hamlet's own shame. He has lost control, killed a man, and almost killed his mother, and the Ghost's judgment is unbearable. In his own mind, that judgment has just linked him to Claudius. The Prince thus acts as an example to his shameless mother. All are sinners, but having sinned, this is how one should feel. Thematically, it's what cleaves his mother's heart in twain. She is split between Claudius' hedonistic values and Hamlet's puritanical ones. There's also a lovely moment for the Ghost, a reaction shot to Gertrude saying she sees "nothing at all". He looks ascant, saddened and regretful that he cannot be seen by the love of his life. She cannot see him now, perhaps like she didn't really see him before. There's existential angst as the Ghost himself doubts his reality, and he dies again (never to reappear in the play) having been ignored and forgotten by his widow.

The end of the scene is cut with a silent sequence in which Hamlet drags Polonius' enshrouded body through corridors, and near the building's laundry, he calls Gertrude on a payphone to have "one more word". Structurally, the purpose this serves is to put the "neighbour room" well away from her apartment, a requirement the way this "Elsinore" is represented. It might also have been used as a reveal that Claudius is sitting in on the phone call, but that doesn't happen. Gertrude does not betray Hamlet. His "good night, mother", after the phone has been hung up, because more symbolic than literal, as if he's closing a chapter on his life. He's soon off to England and does not speak to her again before he leaves (and hardly after, in the play), but more importantly, his thoughts of taking revenge on her have been quelled. It's good night to that part of his plans.

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