Sunday, March 10, 2013

Act IV, Scenes 1-3 - Tennant (2009)

Scene 1
Patrick Stewart's Claudius is as ambiguous a figure as he is creepy in this sequence. Gertrude is startled out of her sobs by hands around her neck, a killer's hands, though it's of course meant to be a massage. Because we're experiencing the scene through her, the camera focused on showing us her reactions, everything Claudius says is does is imbued with a threatening quality, even though, on the surface, he shows her nothing but kindness. But is he asking her questions out of concern for her well-being, or sounding her to see if Hamlet revealed his murderous secret? She's very careful not to give too much away, weighs every word and scrutinizes his face, looking for a sign that he might do her or her son harm. Claudius too, weighs his words, but as a slick politician does, making cool choices to control others' perception of him. Though she is shocked at his assertion that his love (for her? for his adopted son?) was too much to stop this from happening, he eventually wins her over when he admits his soul is full of dismay, reacting to his pain and finally finding the man she loves and was evidently seeking for. We cut away before the embrace, though the director says they did indeed kiss at this moment when the scene was shot.

Gertrude may be desperate to cling to what she once had and resolve her mixed feelings, there's no denying Claudius' selfish streak here. Yes, his first reaction to Polonius' death is shock that he might have been the target of the assassination, but beyond that, there's the moment when he calls Rosencrantz & Guildenstern into the room, thoughtlessly exposing Gertrude to humiliation. She's in her night gown and has been crying and looks quite vulnerable. As R&G walk in, she goes running with a yelp, and sits her back to them, mortified. At no point does Claudius even notice. He's playing the part he wrote for himself, that of the concerned father, tiredly apologetic when asking Hamlet's two school chums to go and find the prince and the corpse. There's definitely a vein of black comedy in the matter-of-fact way it is played.

Scene 2
And then the comedy explodes with the apprehensive, not to say terrified, duo (and a host of guards) running around corridors and staircases, à la Marx Brothers, through Elsinore in search of the killer Prince. The music is humorous, and stops when they stop, so they can hear the body being dragged down stairs. Darkly funny. The Hamlet they find is Mad Hamlet, waiting for them, in complete control, and soon doing voices (pitching up on "squeeeeeeeeezed" for example, or giving the next few lines a swinging cadence as his body sways around a post, appropriately ape-like). The scene is lit by torches (or as we say in North America, flashlights), giving it an uneasy feeling, through which we well understand R&G's reaction. Hamlet is having fun, but no thinks it's funny. Not getting a reaction, he gives up and asks to be brought to the King... at which point he resumes running, jumping the balustrade and leading a merry chase once again.

Scene 3
At the bottom of a stairwell, a new venue, an ugly basement with mysterious stains on the concrete floor and a broken mirror over a dirty wash basin. A place where things are done in secret. Torture? Covert murder? People made to disappear. The cool and collected, even reasonable, Claudius is attended by lawyer types in suits, one of which will turn out to be a doctor. Again we have the push and pull of a reasoned leader protecting his family, who could also be about to kill Hamlet and have his body wash up somewhere innocuous (at least, for an audience who doesn't know the play). Enter Hamlet, taped to a chair on casters, a piece of tape on his mouth as well. It's an interrogation/torture scene. The threat to his life doesn't deter Hamlet from his mockeries. He makes his wild speeches and responds to Claudius' single loss of temper ("Where is Polonius?") with a silly shouting voice ("In heaven!"). The doctor in the room shoots him up with some drug, precursor to his exile, a way to smuggle him, sedate, out of the country. There's a nice moment when Hamlet looks straight into the camera at his mention of a cherub that sees Claudius' purposes, something that can easily be translated to the stage. The audience sees all, and it's true to say that soliloquies are a kind of compact between character and audience. It admits our existence in the world of the play, as observers... and judges. In the film, we're part of the paranoid hypersurveillance theme, but our function is the same.

And wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, Hamlet is rolled out of the room, eager to get to England now that he's done with Claudius. Acting the child to the end. Claudius' brief soliloquy is told in the broken mirror, a match to the one upstairs in Gertrude's closet, and a reference to the mirror used in the stage production. This is an Elsinore that is falling apart, disjointed and fractured, just like its royal family unit. Like Ophelia's mind. And that's where Doran's Hamlet goes next.

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