Sunday, March 1, 2015

V.ii. Duel and Deaths - Fodor (2007)

Much more from Laertes' point of view than other adaptations, the sequence starts with him painting his blade with poison and tying a red ribbon - belonging to his dead sister Polonia - to the hilt. There is an odd smelling-of-the-ribbon moment that's in line with the incestuous vibe of the family and Laertes will be haunted by red-filtered memories of his dead sisters over the course of the next minutes. Though we can sympathize with his loss, we mustn't forget this version of Laertes is a psychopath. And yet, does his resolve flag after Hamlet's sincere apology? The way he grits his teeth having to say he would not wrong Hamlet's love makes us think perhaps it does, he does not wish to wrong it but knows he must.

Fodor's limited means to stage the duel sets it in an unimpressive white room (like much of the film), too small for an audience (or a camera, the excitement of the fight is sustained by POV shots and editing). Claudius, Gertrude and others - including Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, very much alive - thus stand behind the two-way mirror, observing. One observer that stands in the room itself is the Ghost, sarcastically looking on, and sometimes visible to the participants, especially when they're about to die. The duelists' attendants are sometimes present, sometimes not, initially seen in perfectly composed shots just behind their friend - creepy Osric for Laertes, and loyal Horatio for Hamlet. The latter obeys her feelings more readily than Hamlet does and has a sense of what's about to unfold, staring at Laertes' blade most intently. But the purplish color of the metal isn't necessarily proof of foul play. Also in the room with them, so to speak, is Polonia. Not physically (or in ghost form), but as that red ribbon, showing even when the swords themselves don't, as the white blows them out of sight. Unfortunate that the sound of the room is so hollow, speaking to the film's cheapness more than the visuals do. If the dialog isn't recorded properly at times, at least Fodor uses sound design to enhance the scene, with cheering crowds and driving techno.

As the fight progresses, Claudius seems to lose faith in his plan. "Our son shall win" isn't the insincere enthusiasm that's often depicted, but something he fears is happening, or is even resigned to at that point. After Gertrude drinks from the unattended cup, sad Claudius stops looking at the fight and only looks at her. The Ghost smiles sarcastically at the situation. Meanwhile, Hamlet gets his hands sliced open, at which point he and Laertes go at it with fists, and in the struggle, the Prince gets his hands on the ribboned foil and skewers Laertes (which is potentially a fatal wound, poison or no). The music cuts out, everyone just stands there not knowing what to do, and then Gertrude starts to convulse and dies. In a small trade of lines, it's Horatio who deduces and reveals the cup was poisoned, not Laertes, making her a stronger character in the end. That hard bastard confesses and dies, but does not point fingers or ask for forgiveness.
The culprit is clear and Hamlet's call to seek out treachery is pointed firmly at Claudius who then gets stabbed repeatedly. The POV shot (above) is violent but not gory, and the scene shifts to a blue filter as Claudius enters the Ghost's world (we don't see it per se, but this is the implication). Horatio is shocked, the Ghost's face does not change, presumably the courtiers (including R&G) have run off, there will be no Fortinbras in this version. Dissolves during the stabbing makes it seem like it lasted a long time too.
Hamlet's final scene is his farewell to Horatio (and it's his strongest scene in the film), a two-shot that gives them equal importance, perhaps to highlight the passing of the story from one teller to the other. The sound of the ocean outside can be heard, death coming in like a tide. Her offer of a suicide pact is rejected, but as the cup isn't in her hands, Hamlet's "let go" takes on another meaning: "Let [me] go". Here, Horatio's gender swap allows for a tenderness that's been politicized by modern day audiences when both are male, and yet, they don't hold each other with their arms, only their eyes. Hamlet kisses her tears away, and then her, full on the lips. He dies loving his best friend as Marillion's "She'll Never Know" plays. A more positive ending than one might have expected from his "horror" adaptation. The sexual tension between these characters ends with Hamlet's death (the literary connection between sex and death need not be expounded on here). As he dies, the room gets darker. The Ghost finally approaches and Horatio sees him, an angel of death (though should we be thinking her doom will yet come?). A crashing sound like a gun shot, cut to black and credits. That's almost a reference to Fortinbras' war-like volley, isn't it?

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