Sunday, February 7, 2016

Kenneth Branagh vs. Ethan Hawke!

For this blog post, I watched two version's of Hamlet's soliloquy performed by Kenneth Branagh and Ethan Hawke in 1996 and 2000, respectively. 

The two scenes are very different as the Hawke version of the film is set in a blockbuster (which I initially thought was a supermarket) while Branagh's version is set in a palace. Each film's different adaptation of the setting was very interesting to me. Firstly, although palaces and castles can seem to be similar in concept, after some research, tells me that "A castle is built to prove supremacy, whereas a palace is built to prove royalty".  The palace in which the Branagh's soliloquy takes place is very lavish. I have not seen any parts of the film besides the soliloquy, but there is definitely a possibility that Claudius renovated the castle after Old Hamlet's death to have it fit his taste. The resemblance of the castle to a palace can hint at Claudius's style as a ruler – caring much more about his living standards and the little things rather than the wellbeing of his country. On the other hand, I thought that Hawke's portrayal of Hamlet in the soliloquy further stresses his personality as a sad angsty teen (google "sad boy aesthetic"). Personally, the blockbuster setting made me feel that Hamlet is very independent and detached from his family. At the same time, his soliloquy is about his troubles with Claudius; it seems that as much as he wants to be unassociated with his family, his ties to them persist to influence his entire life under the surface. 

Although Ophelia is present in the soliloquy in the original play, the directors of each movie have made the conscious decision to leave her out. There is one difference in Branagh's version which is that Polonius and Claudius hide behind what seems to me is a one way mirror as Hamlet speaks in front of it. The act of Hamlet speaking into the mirror shows the change in Hamlet's mindset as a positive one (for him at least) – it shows that he hasn't lost himself to his crave for revenge. Hamlet shows that he accepts his transformation because he is able to look at himself in the mirror while speaking his inner thoughts. Contrary to what I thought, Branagh's version of the soliloquy seemed like a pre-war speech (one that he knew he would win) instead of a philosophical dilemma. I couldn't help but notice his artful (as in sly) smile. He certainly seemed to be up to no good. In the middle of his soliloquy, Branagh's Hamlet pulls out his dagger (right after he says bod-kin). That really emphasized his anger towards Claudius, which was not nearly as present in Hawke's version. The only heavy emphasis in Hawke's version was at the end, where TV screen displays a scene of fire burning. I think it demonstrates Hamlet's inner anger, but the way Hawke performed the soliloquy made Hamlet seem way more sad and confused than angry.

I enjoyed both versions of the soliloquy, but I must argue that Hawke's version would better represent my understanding of this scene. When I read the soliloquy, I thought of Hamlet as the sad, alternative, but privileged and smart teen. I never thought of him being a very aggressive figure, and Hawke's version of Hamlet seems to be the same. Although he knows that he wants to revenge, he always puts time aside to think, about his actions and the world around him. Hawke's version of Hamlet is the same pensive guy that I envisioned Hamlet to be. Despite the differences in setting, the essence of Hamlet, as I believe, is wonderfully conveyed through Hawke.