Friday, January 7, 2011

II.ii. Brevity - Hamlet 2000

From Act II onwards, Hamlet 2000 makes some big structural changes to the play. Scenes are rarely in the order we're used to. In this case, Polonius boards Hamlet reading BEFORE he goes to the King and Queen. He has seen the madness first hand, and is not getting his information from his (tight-lipped) daughter, any intercepted message, or Hamlet's public behavior. When he tells Gertrude her son is mad, there is surprise there. She wasn't aware of any problem since the modern setting has Hamlet often outside the Elsinore building, and she's been too wrapped up in her own happiness besides. There is also something to be said for both Hamlet and Ophelia already acting crazy, as modern youths are more likely to give in to their moods and eccentricities than those of the Elizabethan era.

The scene is set at a pool high in the sky, signifying the opulence afforded these corporate Royals, but also in keeping with Ophelia's thematic link to water. Polonius has brought her (and her rather outrageous baggy jeans) to his meeting with the Royals. He is cocky and proud of himself, at times rehearsed and often expecting reactions and getting none. Bill Murray's comic timing is impeccable here, leaving gaps for the other characters to respond when they don't have any lines. Gertrude's impatience is evident, though she tends to hide it from Polonius by hiding behind her husband's back.
Ophelia, for her part, is disaffected and numb through most of the exchange, having cut herself off from her emotions to bear the humiliation. Her father produces the letter he took from her at the start of the Act, lying about her giving it to him voluntarily. He's bagged it as a piece of evidence. Ophelia reaches for it, like a child whose toy has been taken away, but he keeps it away. It happens again while he unenthusiastically reads it, as she runs for it from out of frame. This is wonderfully comic while also being tragic. The girl then starts walking along the pool's edge as if it were a tightrope. One irony of the play that is brought to light when directors include Ophelia in this scene is that while Hamlet may or may not have gone mad for love, Ophelia most definitely suffers for love and no one realizes it. Hamlet remains the focus of the play, but it's Ophelia who takes her life and should have been on suicide watch. The idea of having her humiliated here makes the adults of the play complicit in driving her to it. And this Ophelia is definitely "on the edge".

Polonius walks towards camera before he asks what the Royals think of him, hiding a smile indicating that, at least in his own mind, he's manipulating them. Not that he has an ulterior motive, but he does like it when he speaks to authority and they listen. This is an arrogant Polonius. As he chides Ophelia about Hamlet being a prince out of her star, he turns to her, chiding her for a second time. That's when she jumps into the water, prefiguring her later drowning.
This is but a fantasy, and we return to the scene. They never saw her jump, but for the audience, it's a sign of things to come. Ophelia has a deep desire to drown out the world around her - showing us the dive muffles the sound of the dialog. The scene cuts the plan between Claudius and Polonius, allow Claudius to just give his counselor a look that makes him feel pressure to promise more detective work.


Cross said...

What do you think of this film's method of leasing into Ophelia's madness/drowning? I found it rather perfunctory, which is often the problem: Ophelia is linked with water or flowers (photographs, in this case), which both feature prominently in her madness, but the, shall we say, root of her distemper is left obscure. (Of course, there's the fact that her ex-something killed her father, but I mean psychologically - there's got to be more going on to push someone over the edge like that.)

Siskoid said...

The cut lines in Hamlet 2000 are, in my opinion, an attempt at a pure movie aesthetic. Films are a visual medium, and the best films often leave things unsaid, relying on images to infer them. (Whether the cast and crew succeeds is up to us.)

The way Ophelia is painted from the start is as already on the edge. Here they make her out to at least have suicidal thoughts. In earlier scenes, she never seems all that well put together either. She's already got a borderline personality. An attempt at more modern psychological characterization?

Of course, in a later scene, she'll go Shakespearean mad, which is something poetic and unrealistic, but I think we have to understand that it's no worse than Hamlet soliloquizing in Blockbuster's, or that he was visited by a ghost. Even in Elizabethan dress, these are theatrical devices that don't represent "reality".

So in the end, I think Ophelia is portrayed as being capable of mental illness (believable), but that illness manifests itself theatrically (not believable). It's a common problem when putting modern trappings on a Shakespeare play. The audience starts thinking in modern terms and then has trouble with some of the decidedly unmodern devices.

Another example of this is Romeo+Juliet, which is falls apart because I can't believe "love at first sight" would be this potent for kids of the pictured generation, especially given their lifestyles on screen.