Thursday, October 7, 2010

The End of Almereyda's Hamlet

Hamlet. Dir. Michael Almereyda. Perf. Ethan Hawke, Julia Stiles, Sam Shepard, and Bill Murray. 2000. DVD. Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 2001.

Michael Almereyda's Hamlet has a number of affinities with Aki Kaurismäki's Hamlet Goes Business (for which, q.v.). One similarity is their postmodern approach to the end of the play. Kaurismäki doesn't allow Horatio to "draw [his] sad breath in pain / To tell [Hamlet's] story" (V.ii.348-49). Almereyda has directed a Horatio who doesn't seem capable of telling Hamlet's story.

But Almereyda also has a thrilling moment where the events of the play are noteworthy enough to close (but not to headline?) a serious news broadcast. Robert MacNeil, of The MacNeil / Lehrer NewsHour fame, has the final word on the events of the play.

We're allowed to catch the last part of a story about the rise of Fortinbras to the position of CEO of the Denmark corporation:

The concluding words are the lines given to Fortinbras (and one line given to the English Ambassador) in the play:
This quarry cries on havoc. O proud Death,
What feast is toward in thine eternal cell
That thou so many princes at a shot
So bloodily hast struck?
The sight is dismal. (V.ii.364-68)
At that point, MacNeil pauses reflectively and offers these thoughts:
Our wills and fates do so contrary run
That our devices still are overthrown;
Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own. (III.ii.211-13)
The speech is the Player King's. The effect of placing them here is to invite us to ponder whether the film itself—or any of the characters in it—can achieve their purposes. It calls attention to the postmodern aspect of those lines: intentionality cannot be a consideration in interpretation.

The film's opening title card: "The King and C.E.O. of Denmark Corporation is dead."

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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