"To Be or Inter-Be": Almereyda's End-of-Millennium Hamlet1

By Abbate, Alessandro | Literature/Film Quarterly, January 1, 2004 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

"To Be or Inter-Be": Almereyda's End-of-Millennium Hamlet1


Abbate, Alessandro, Literature/Film Quarterly


The most recent film version of Hamlet, by independent American director Michael Mmereyda (Nadja, 1994; Trance, 1998), locates the tragedy of the Prince of Dennark in New York City in the year 2000. Elsinore court is turned into a multimedia corporation, and we are given a very realistic cinematic representation of a postmodern world saturated with video technology. As Almereyda himself has noted, "There's hardly a single scene without a camera, a photograph, a TV monitor or electronic recording device of some kind" (Hamlet Headquarters).

The film uses the play's essential motif of Hamlet's quest-his search for proof of his uncle's crime, for moral transparency, for true mutuality, for a definitive answer to the question of existence-in order to address an end-of-millennium anxiety regarding the collapse of human relationships and the growth of personal alienation in a media-driven world of hi-tech communications.

Apart from attention, Hamlet's multiple searches entail clarity of mind and a capacity for discerning. At the beginning of the play (and the film), Hamlet tells his mother that he "knows not seems" (1.2.76). But Almereyda's film makes it very clear, on the contrary, that he is very well aware of "seems": this Hamlet is a would-be filmmaker, a young man obsessed with video images. He suffers from a sort of screen addiction. Wherever he goes he carries a portable video unit, a digital camera, and a palm monitor. Technological reproduction devices seem to be natural extensions of his body. How, under such circumstances, can he possibly know "where truth is hid" (2.2.158)? How can he discover the meaning of life in a situation like this, where life has become a matter of negotiation between essence and simulation; where reality and facade, being and performing, have blurred into one; and where human relationships have become a disembodied dial-up network? These are the issues that are central to Almereyda's film.

The director introduces Hamlet by having him deliver part of the "What a piece of work is a man" speech. In Shakespeare, the speech comes in the second scene of Act 2. By rearranging the text in this way, Almereyda contrives to tell us, from the outset, something essential about the psychological and emotional state of his protagonist: that is, he is a young man afflicted by sadness, confusion, and frustration. Moreover, the speech-originally part of a conversation between Hamlet and his fellow students from Wittenberg-becomes here a sort of technological soliloquy. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern disappear. They are replaced by Hamlet's digital replication, and as a result, Hamlet's desire to open his heart to his old friends becomes solipsistic meditation. What we see is a virtual Hamlet talking to the real one-the flesh-and-blood Hamlet-from the screen of a portable video unit. Almost immediately, therefore, we have a glimpse of what Almereyda regards as the most problematic and paradoxical outcomes of a mass media and technological society. The problem, in this opening scene, is loneliness. Not only does Hamlet feel lonely, he is lonely. The paradox, on the other hand, lies in the fact that we have a virtual man, made up of pixels, voicing his skepticism about the human condition, about man, and the "quintessence of dust." A monitor man lecturing us on matters of conscience and spirit. To be sure, this paradox is a direct by-product of our hi-tech end-of-millennium society, one in which, as Jim Collins puts it, "television is often seen as the 'quintessence' of postmodern culture" (Storey 176).

Above all, Almereyda's Hamlet is an alienated young man.2 Melancholy and introversion are the consequences of a technological addiction that estranges him from other human beings, and blurs the borders between reality and .simulacra. Notwithstanding the recent family crisis-and the uncanny, disturbing revelations of the Ghost-he looks as though he lost his mirth well before his father's death.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

"To Be or Inter-Be": Almereyda's End-of-Millennium Hamlet1
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?