29 March 2008


Titus Andronicus is not one of Shakespeare's most popular plays. In fact, it's generally considered one of his worst, alongside Cymbeline (curiously enough, I've seen both performed on the stage in the last 6 months). It's upsetting and gory and relentlessly brutal - not exactly a crowd-pleaser. Still though, I'm not entirely sure why the play has the terrible reputation it does, but maybe that's because Julie Taymore's film adaptation of it is so damn good that it redeems the material. 

First off, Titus is gorgeous. It is absolutely stunning. I guess this shouldn't really come as a surprise, given that Taymore is also responsible for Frida and Across the Universe, but while those movies were visually complex, I wasn't really as blown away by them as I was by Titus. The whole movie looks like a gigantic art project. It's a fascinating mishmash of aesthetics from different time periods and it's breath-taking. I was trying to find some stills from it to re-post here, but none of them really do it justice (or they're of the gorier scenes...), but here's a nice shot of Jessica Lange's character, Tamora (I dunno what exactly that is in her hair, but it's so neato).

So that's for starters - it's pretty. Very very pretty. I suppose some people will find the blurring of time periods really irritating - it's certainly somewhat disorienting, but also kind of fascinating for it. Ziplock baggies and video games alongside cars from the 20s and suits of armor - huh? The movie is effectively timeless, picking freely from whatever time period is the most visually interesting. One would expect this to be distracting, but oddly enough, it's not. 

Somewhat distracting, however, are the occasional forrays into pure visual masturbation, interludes with flames and writhing women, etc, that I guess are supposed to provide a kind of subtext, but are unnecessary and mostly irritating, not to mention somewhat cheesy. Quit while you're ahead, eh?

The acting is first-rate, and it's a great cast - Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Alan Cumming, and even a startlingly blond Jonathan Rhys Meyer. Harry Lennix is phenomenal - and looking at his imdb profile, it seems to have been the highpoint of his career. Anyhow, they deliver the lines well, which is no small feat, when you're dealing with Shakespeare.

And the story, well, yes, it's grim. But you know, for some reason what hits me most strongly in the play, and what I find really moving about it, is the depictions of the love a parent has for his/her child. I mean, in a really charitable reading, Tamora's evil is a result of her pleas for the life of her firstborn being ignored. And to me, the most moving scenes in the entire play are those when Titus is mourning his maimed daughter, and when Aaron is pleading for the life of his only son. The Aaron case is particularly poignant, because he is, in pretty much all other respects, pure evil, yet you find yourself squarely on his side in that moment. There's something about these scenes of parental love that is really powerful, and to me, they seem like the main point of the play. 

It's hard to recommend a movie that's so incredibly brutal and devastating, but as far as Shakespeare adaptations go, it's one of the better, not to mention more creative, ones that I've ever seen. 

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