Saturday, February 21, 2015

V.ii. Duel and Deaths - Hamlet 2000

The setting for the duel is the Elsinore building's rooftop, the duelists dressed in fencing uniforms wired for electronic detection of hits. It looks windy and precarious, but there's still an assembly of courtiers and news photographers to witness the event. Hamlet is sincere and teary-eyed as he gives his apology, but Laertes cannot be thawed. He doesn't even answer, just goes for the foils. Interestingly, when Laertes says his foil is too heavy and he wants another, he's actually refusing the poisoned one. Claudius looks dismayed, wondering if his plan is already going awry. The audience may well think Laertes wants to try his hand at actually defeating the Prince without the poison, though the truth, as we will see, is something else entirely.

As the fighting begins - and Hamlet 2000 doesn't really do anything too impressive with the swordplay - the King looks uncommonly haggard, his kingdom slipping away. Gertrude has a certain smug pride in her son, and then decides Claudius is acting strangely. This is a Queen who knows her husband well, and his nervousness coupled with the perhaps unusual tradition of offering a cup of wine to the victor (an anachronism, surely), makes her suspect the worst. She runs to Hamlet to wipe his brow, pushing Claudius and his poison cup aside, and turning, grabs the cup herself and on impulse, drinks deep from it.
"I pray you pardon me" takes a different bent, a sarcastic acknowledgment that she's just spoiled Claudius' plans on several levels. Wiping her son's face becomes her last act, a motherly one.

Laertes' own plan is revealed when he pulls a gun - likely the one Hamlet used to kill his father Polonius - at "Say you so? come on". A major difference, it adds a layer of ironic mirroring to the situation, and since guns have been equated with swords throughout the whole film, except for the duel, it makes sense it would return as the murder weapon at the very end. Laertes doesn't shoot from a distance, however, he and Hamlet struggle corps-à-corps, the gun firing twice to produce the same effect as the twin poisoning. Here we might see another irony in Laertes and his father both being shot in mirrored circumstances, Polonius through a mirror and Laertes facing his "mirror" in the play. He does not ask for forgiveness, nor does he show regret (the cuts do pile up). Instead he whispers the truth in Hamlet's ears, revealing the Claudius as the villain only as a final blow, telling Hamlet he's been played and has lost.

One victim of all the cuts is Claudius' death, which is abrupt and lacks poetry. He's shot several times, an act not accompanied by Shakespeare's lines, nor even the use of the poison cup. Hamlet's own death is more complete, and accompanied by a montage of memories, treated like the artistic video he was wont to make, of all the characters in the play. A kind of fuzzy curtain call. It may hark back to silent film, if one would like to connect to his famous last words. Before we get to the coda, a shot of the blue sky, a plane trailing exhaust is used to show Hamlet's symbolic ascension to Heaven, but since the angle has the plane going downward from our point of view, it's ambiguous. He may be bound for Hell instead. Regardless, the use of a plane creates a visual travel pun relating to that "undiscovered country".
Though Horatio is left to tell the tale, there's no hint of him appearing on the news. A missed opportunity. Taking a page (or a shot, really) from Romeo + Juliet's Chorus, Fortinbras' lines have been put in a newscaster's mouth to close out the film. In addition to the Norwegian CEO/prince's lines, the anchor also uses the Player King's from earlier in the play:

Our wills and fates do so contrary run
That our devices still are overthrown;
Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own

It's not uncommon for a Shakespeare play to hold the key to its themes somewhere in the middle (or several possible keys, open to interpretation). Highlighting those lines can be a useful directorial trick. Moving those lines to a meaningful position may be cheating, but that's what they've done here. Hamlet 2000's choice is in line with its protagonist's existential outlook, though I still prefer "to thine own self be true" as the key to the play. The final shot of the film is the anchor's teleprompter showing the above speech, as film returns to words.


Craig D. said...

I vaguely recall reading an interview with Almereyda in which he talked about the ending. Apparently, Casey Affleck actually showed up as Fortinbras (via helicopter, which is why the duel is taking place on a rooftop to begin with) and did his "this quarry cries on havoc" speech. It was cut, and they replaced it with the ending we got, with Robert MacNeil reading a combination of Player King and Fortinbras lines.

The duel is one of my few complaints with this version. It feels rushed, there's no impressive swordplay (and why the hell are they fencing to begin with?), and Gertrude knowing she's drinking poison has become cliche by this point. I find it forgivable, though, because I love the closing with MacNeil, and the end credits set to Accelera Deck's "Greentone." But then I'm just a great big sucker for the soundtrack in general, both the popular tracks and the score by Carter Burwell.

Siskoid said...

Anything with All Along the Watchtower in it gets my approval, basically.