Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Ophelia Speaks

In May, I wrote that post about the connections between Ophelia, Padme, and Jane (Eyre). I talked about the name Byronic hero and asked what we call the heroines that accompany such characters. Like I mentioned there, I don't think anyone refers to Hamlet as a Byronic hero, but he does have some of the traits that go along with such a figure.

Then I saw the trailer for Ophelia, which is Hamlet from Ophelia's perspective, and it was like someone else saw what I wanted and had made it. I absolutely couldn't wait for this random film that probably still no one else has even heard of. It came out with a limited release on Friday. It was only playing in one theatre in the greater Phoenix area and only at one time during the day. I was one of only five people in the theatre.

No matter, though: it was like someone had taken my soul and put it on the screen.

I was throughly enraptured by this film. That doesn't mean that it was flawless, but what film is? I didn't particularly like the narration that the movie begins with, but when I realized at the end that it's based on a book, that made more sense. This wasn't an original story; it was a book to movie adaptation. So there is a certain condensing that takes place in certain parts rather than everything being created for this medium (film) from the beginning. So that's why we'll start with narration of Ophelia telling rather than showing.

Because this story is Hamlet but not Hamlet, it does not cover the same length of time and it does not cover the same scenes. Some scenes are the same; some are not. Some scenes are missing; some are there. Some lines are there; some are not. Some are changed; some stay the same. The lines that are added, though, all give the same feeling, all fit the same fabric.

We see Ophelia, her intelligence and her wit and her imagination and her passion--the things that make her a woman that Hamlet would fall in love with.

This movie is an indulgence, and you must see it that way or you will miss the whole point of it.

I wasn't sure how I felt about the decision to make Hamlet and Ophelia's madness feigned. This is one of the things in the play that can be acted out in various ways. Either Hamlet is mad or a little mad or he's just pretending or he's doing both, etc. Here both he and Ophelia feign madness. It makes sense for the story and it fit and flowed well, but here's why I questioned the artistic choice. I realized that I don't think Hamlet and Ophelia were feigning madness. Maybe they weren't full out, put them in a psychotic hold out of control, but I like to think that they were a little . . . off. Because so many of us are. I don't want to explain away something that is part of who we are as people because I want to love us as we are.

(And here there will be some spoilers, if anyone cares about that.)

However. Remember what I said about this movie being an indulgence? It's a fantasy; it's what we want, not what's true. Everything is beautiful. So we watch Hamlet and Ophelia pretending they're mad even though we know that they are struggling and some of it is actually real. We watch Hamlet marry Ophelia even though we know that he really didn't. We watch Ophelia live even though we know that she didn't. We watch her with his child even though we know she didn't have his child. We listen to her story even though we know she never got to tell her story. We watch what we want to watch to see something beautiful.

Ophelia, the woman who loved and was loved by Hamlet. Ophelia, who drowned in her watery grave, lived and was happy simply to have once been loved. We see her dissolve her pain and her reality and we believe that we can dissolve ours, too.

There is more to talk about, especially the theme of identity. What they did with Gertrude and Claudius. The other ladies in waiting. Etc. Plenty to talk about. I wish I could hear what the literature professors are saying about this movie, not what the movie critics are saying. (And I don't usually take this angle, but might I point out that most movie critics are men, aren't they? So if this movie isn't getting stellar reviews, hey, I think that just goes to say that it's more a movie for women than men, if it's going to lean one way or the other.) But what resonated most with me was that theme of the voice that I want Ophelia to have.

I asked for focus on these heroines--and I got it. Ophelia spoke. Ophelia declared her identity and her love for Hamlet, her never-ending love for him. That quote keeps running through my head: "Doubt that the stars are fire; / Doubt that the sun doth move; / Doubt truth to be a liar; / But never doubt I love." It's like this chant of victory. Just because she lost Hamlet doesn't mean Ophelia was wrong to love him and doesn't mean she can't treasure her memories of him and doesn't mean she can't continue to live a happy life after he is gone from it.

Doubt that the sun doth move . . . but never doubt I love. Never doubt I love.

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