Sunday, March 2, 2014

IV.vii. Ophelia's Death - Zeffirelli '90

In Zeffirelli's restructuring of the play, Ophelia's last scene is immediately succeeded by her suicide. We see her outside Elsinore, skipping towards the brook while, in voice-over, Gertrude tells the tale. Before cutting to the Queen and the reactions of the court, we get a close-up of Ophelia on the small bridge staring into the water, obviously disturbed. There is no doubt here that this was a suicide and far from the lyrical portrait painted by Gertrude. One simply cannot imagine this Ophelia being "incapable of her own distress"; her pain is too raw.

Is Gertrude painting a pretty picture for Laertes' benefit? She may be. From all the wide shots, including one at the very end with the girl's body floating away, no one seems to have witnessed her death. Gertrude may be enacting a sort of reconstruction based on Ophelia's old habits, the state she was found in, and her own wishful imagination. Glenn Close's performance supports that idea, tearfully smiling through most of it (except for the "muddy death" line) even though women in black are grieving behind her. She's chosen to remember the girl's prettiness, not the ugly side of her madness, and she smiles as one might at a eulogy, in fond remembrance. Laertes is simply shocked, and his "drowned" lines cut back to the scene of Ophelia's death, the camera panning away from her. He can't bear to imagine it.

Now, there are some cuts here, mostly because Gertrude didn't interrupt a conspiracy. Laertes and Claudius will only discuss Hamlet's murder after the Prince's return and Ophelia's funeral. Laertes doesn't get to forbid his tears, nor can Claudius be angry at Gertrude for disturbing his plan.

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