Sunday, July 20, 2014

V.i. Ophelia's Funeral - Olivier '48

Olivier's version of the cemetery is an impressive space, essentially a multi-tiered quarry so tombstones are visible in every shot, whatever the height of the camera. It also creates a pit that best describes the hell to which the characters are in danger of falling. Interestingly, Horatio is given the line about suicide, and even as he says it, shock and realization flash on his face and he becomes desperate for Hamlet not to investigate further. He is aware of Ophelia's madness, recognizes no doubt the members of the burial party, and puts two and two together. There are things he hasn't told his friend, but things have gotten a lot worse since he left Elsinore to meet Hamlet at the sea port.

Terence Morgan's Laertes, with his fresh face, is more hurt than angry at the priest, and even when he flings an insult, you can't really hate this grieving boy. Morgan eventually gives in to melodrama, with the kind of gestures Hamlet explicitly condemns in actors earlier in the play (but cut in this adaptation), but then the scene almost calls for it. Is there greater melodrama than leaping into someone's grave? Should we see a condemnation of Laertes in this? Shakespeare, Hamlet and/or Olivier may find the boy's action less than sincere by contrasting them with the Prince's description of bad acting. By making Laertes saw the air with his hands, the idea that he is somehow insincere sets in, and Hamlet is better justified in his outrage. The absentee brother's grief is perhaps just a circus replacing the normal obsequies denied Ophelia.

But Hamlet isn't himself innocent of melodrama. He comes "onstage" arms out, like a Christ figure, a monument, one of these tombstones come alive. The irony of Laertes asking the Devil to take him is palpable. He may be "resurrected", but he's not Savior. He is their doom, and his own. In his anger, he rattles his lines off quickly. His last lines are spoken as he walks away, throwing them at specific characters insultingly. Laertes is the mewing cat, a suckling, or if you'll excuse the modern parlance, a "pussy". Claudius is the dog who will have his day, a not-so-veiled threat. Throughout, Gertrude is the loving mother, interceding on behalf of her son and seeing the best in him, excusing his behavior. This prompts a cold reaction from Claudius who is left alone with the grieving Laertes, where he, in this adaptation's restructuring of the play, then seduces the younger man into conspiring to kill Hamlet. This meeker version of Laertes is now primed to do something despicable, where before it might not have been justified.

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