Hamlet: Act 3, Scene 4
For my blog post, I decided to compare scenes from Almereyda‘s Hamlet (2000) and Doran‘s Hamlet (2009), specifically focusing on Act 3, Scene 4.
Both films are modern adaptations of the play, and Almereyda‘s Hamlet in particular takes place in contemporary New York City. The film strongly incorporates technology and uses visuals/imagery to illustrate the impact of innovation and modernization. Almereyda‘s film also omits many lines from the play, and the script is often shuffled around to accommodate the visuals. Although it is clear that the focus is more on imagery rather than the dialogue, the lines are carefully selected before being integrated into the scenes, or discarded to make room for visuals. For example, in one of the scenes, Laertes receives a message from Hamlet via fax, rather than having it delivered by a messenger as seen in the play. Thus, whenever lines from the play are omitted, the use of visuals make up for it. The tone is also very low, mysterious and creepy, forcing the audience to listen closely when Hamlet is speaking. This is how Almereyda draws in the audience and portrays critical aspects of the play.
Doran’s Hamlet also takes place in a modern setting, but delivers the play as a television film using a single-camera approach. The setting/imagery is also much darker than Almereyda‘s, and Doran follows the script more closely. Furthermore, the emphasis on technology/modernization is significantly less, and the stage‘s overall lighting is very dark. The stage looks completely black in some scenes, which contributes to the film’s unsettling atmosphere. Unlike Almereyda’s use of modern-day costumes, Doran‘s film is more formal and closer to the original play. The characters also speak in British accents rather than the American accents seen in Almereyda‘s film. Additionally, the tone in Doran‘s Hamlet can sometimes be seen as exaggerated, sarcastic and even humorous. In fact, Hamlet displays erratic behaviour and seems completely and utterly insane. Yes, he was referred to as “mad” in Almereyda’s version, but Doran takes it a step further and depicts him as an unpredictable (and potentially dangerous) person. The use of frightening sound effects when he becomes violent further illustrates this. I enjoyed Doran‘s version, as he uses excellent visuals and follows the script more closely and accurately. Almereyda’s version relies too heavily on action and film editing.
In Almereyda‘s film, Act 3, Scene 4 takes place in a hotel room/apartment in New York. While Polonius hides behind a tapestry in the play, he instead conceals himself behind a mirror in the film. When Hamlet enters, he initially seems somewhat calm but progressively gets more aggressive. He becomes violent with his mother, and this is reflected by the dark and eerie music playing in the background. In the play, the scene is written as follows:
HAMLET: “No, by the rood, not so.
You are the Queen, your husband’s brother‘s wife,
And, would it were not so, you are my mother.”
It is clear that Hamlet isn’t too happy with his mother, but when he says “would it were not so, you are my mother” (3.4.15), she strikes him (slapping him in the face). This imagery took the text to an entirely new level, as the mother’s rage and inner emotions are revealed to the audience. In Doran’s version, the mother does very little to fight back against Hamlet’s violent behavior and does not stand up for herself. In fact, he utters the same lines in a very taunting manner, putting her beneath him (literally and figuratively). The imagery in Doran’s version is also very dark, with a black/dark brown color in the background. Hamlet is also disheveled and seems completely mad. He enters the room screaming “Mother!” and is twice as aggressive as Almereyda’s Hamlet. The music is also very terrifying and unsettling, as the audience begins to realize that Hamlet has lost his marbles.
He then further goes on to say:
HAMLET: “Come, come, and sit you down; you shall not budge.
You go not till I set you up a glass
Where you may see the inmost part of you.”
In Doran’s version, Hamlet simply knocks his mother to the bed and tells her she cannot leave until she re-evaluates herself and her immoral behavior. He raises his hands to mimic a glass/mirror for her to look into. Hamlet is displeased with the fact that she married her dead husband’s brother, and wants her to repent for her sins.
However, in Almereyda’s version, Gertrude’s face is literally shoved into a mirror for her to gaze upon. The overall imagery of the scene is very dark and depressing, and her gazing into the mirror (where Polonius is standing) may have been foreshadowing his death. The red color of the bed and pillows may indicate the bloodshed that is about to come, and the overall mood of the scene is very dark and disturbing. Gertrude even fears that Hamlet might actually kill her, thus screaming for help and ultimately revealing where Polonius is hidden.
In both films, guns are used to kill Polonius rather than the sword/dagger in the play. This is also interesting, as it portrays important elements of the play in a contemporary manner. In both films, the gun is fired through the glass, killing Polonius.
However, the ghost of Hamlet’s father is depicted quite differently. In Almereyda’s version, the ghost appears sitting in the chair right in front of him, and although Hamlet is startled and afraid, he is still somewhat composed. However, in Doran’s version, there are many cinematic effects that add to the arrival of the ghost. The clock ticks and there is dramatic music, making Hamlet turn pale with fear. When the ghost appears, he looks much more frightening than the one in Almereyda’s version, and Hamlet is visibly shaken. He falls to the ground and screams, and his mother tries to help him, but cannot see the ghost. The ghost even touches her, but she fails to notice. This detailed scene of the ghostly encounter creates a very eerie tone with its dark lighting, sound effects and editing.
I personally preferred Doran‘s version, as it followed the script a lot more and the acting was superb. Almereyda’s version is based more on action and visual effects. Visual effects are great, but the films become more interesting when the dialogue is followed.