Friday, November 7, 2014

V.ii. The Readiness Is All - Hamlet 2000

The sequence is set in Hamlet's apartment where Marcella is sleeping, with the Ghost at her bedside. I hadn't realized it before, but she and Horatio are Hamlet's roommates. Why is the Ghost here? This version of Hamlet Sr. haunts this building and has been seen more regularly than the play would have it. His vigil, and Marcella's resemblance to Ophelia, creates an image of grief building on grief, a reminder of two dead characters. As this is a scene about Hamlet's doom and about his allowing the tragedy to run its course, such imagery supports that sinking feeling of dread which is required of it. The Ghost will hear the boys come in and make himself scarce, but will reappear at the very end, and Hamlet seem to look straight at him, an acceptance of his own death to come. "I will join you soon," he seems to say. Hamlet and Horatio keep their voices low so as not to wake Marcella up, but Hamlet's temper will get the better of him when Horatio's questions paint him as not as on board with Hamlet's actions as the Prince would have liked. She soon wanders into the scene.

Hamlet's tale is seen in flashback and features an amusingly awkward modernization of the events recounted in the play. It's set on a plane, instead of a ship (the word "cabin" still fits, in a way), with the comedy relief Rosencrantz & Guildenstern fast asleep, one of them with a night mask. But that's not the awkward part. Hamlet goes into the overhead compartment and pulls out a laptop. And on that laptop, he finds a Word document from Claudius to England, which he edits easily. He hands Horatio a diskette with the original message on it. Now, there WAS an Internet in the year 2000, but I think we can accept that Claudius would not want to create a "paper trail" by sending his hitmen an email. But having an electronic copy of the message, with no way to authenticate it to boot, creates its own problems. Why can't the message be on a piece of paper?

Much better, but in the same vein, is Osric being replaced by a fax machine. The message from the King comes into the apartment via fax and Horatio simply reads the relevant lines. Hamlet's reactions, "How if I answer no?" etc. are thus said in private conversation with his friends, rhetorical or explicitly honest reactions to the message. He's not playing the scene to anyone who might report back to the King. The "readiness is all" speech, he rattles off very quickly, speaking to its inevitability. After a quick cutaway to Claudius poisoning a drink (testing it?), we return to Hamlet's preparations. He removes all the pictures he had on his wall - elements of his collages, pics of Ophelia - and turns off the lights after Horatio gives him a meaningful look that can only say "it's time", leaving a blank wall in a darkened room. Everything speaks to Hamlet's impending doom. He puts his affairs in order, destroys the evidence of his life before allowing the tragedy to destroy that life entire.


Craig D. said...

I read somewhere that the brand name of the fax machines is "Osric," which would be a nice little touch, but I couldn't make out any logos on them when I revisited the film recently. I'm not sure what relevance this would have in regard to the fact that Paul Bartel shows up during the fencing match as Osric. Is he the CEO of the machines' manufacturer?

This is one of the few problems I have with this fine (and underrated) film. The fax machines make for neat variations on familiar scenes -- such as, like you point out, having Hamlet and Horatio's reaction to the message being a private conversation -- but it robs Paul Bartel of the chance to give us an Osric who was memorable in any way. I guess it's give and take with modernized adaptations like these.

The fax machines also date the film, as you pointed out in the IV.vii post, but I think that's made up for the fact that Hamlet's video diaries basically predicted the YouTube era. What probably seemed silly in 2000 has now proved to be quite prescient, and more relevant to today's world than that of the late 90s.

(Excellent blog, by the way. I've been compulsively reading it since I discovered it. It appeals to my obsession with comparing film adaptations of classic works of literature, and it's very well done.)

Siskoid said...

I'm glad it resonates with you, Craig!

Yeah, I freeze-framed the heck out of this scene to catch a glimpse of some Osric brand, but the camera never focuses on it. It would have been cute, but perhaps not much more. In hindsight, we might talk about fax technology already being on its way out in 2000 (and yet, maddeningly still exists), showing a Denmark putting its faith in the wrong things (fax/rich land owner). There's something to it, though it seems accidental here.