Thursday, May 15, 2014

V.i. The Gravedigger Scene - Hamlet 2000

Hamlet walks out of an airport terminal in a hoodie, catches a motorcycle helmet, and embraces Horatio. The two of them drive out and stop in a cemetery. There are kids in costumes running around. It seems it's still Halloween. Either it's been a year since Hamlet left, or it's part of the "time out of joint" motif. Why are they there? Does Horatio know about the funeral? Has Hamlet already been briefed? Is this why he's back? By cutting the entire sequence's dialog, these become a possibility. We hear singing, but it's not Shakespeare's verse. A gravedigger "with no feeling of his business" sings Bob Dylan's All Along the Watchtower. Though the lines we hear clearly have little bearing on the scene, the song does link to Hamlet, and Hamlet 2000 particularly, in several ways (see below). The nobles do not engage the man. It's a visual reference to the play without having to actually play the scene.

And yes, that means we don't get any interpretation of "Alas, poor Yorick", a brave thing when it's likely the most iconic image of the play. The modern trappings killed it. It would have been difficult to explain why a modern-day Gravedigger would have been throwing skulls out of a mass grave, or whether "king's jester" has enough of an equivalent to make any measure of sense in the context of the year 2000. We simply move directly to Ophelia's funeral and Hamlet's confrontation with Laertes.

"There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief,
"There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."

"No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke,
"There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.
Outside in the cold distance a wildcat did growl,
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

Only the first couple lines are heard, but the next has a reference to digging the earth, and to the businessmen who stand in as the play's nobility in the film. The verse is an equalizer, just like Hamlet's description of death, with neither businessmen (later, princes) nor plowmen knowing what's going on. Life treated as a joke is Hamlet's thing, so he can be the joker, or this may be a reference to Yorick. And by the end, we have two riders, Hamlet and Horatio, approaching and heralding something furious, a wildcat or howling wind. Though the song isn't about Hamlet, its lyrics do seem to fit a lot of the play's (and film's) details, and makes an interesting choice, even if it isn't featured in the movie enough to make those who don't already know it (and who recognize it from what little we hear) see how its words resonate with Shakespeare's.

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