War begets revenge. Victorious general, Titus Andronicus, returns to Rome with hostages: Tamora queen of the Goths and her sons. He orders the eldest hewn to appease the Roman dead. He declines the proffered emperor's crown, nominating Saturninus, the last ruler's venal elder son. Saturninus, to spite his brother Bassianus, demands the hand of Lavinia, Titus's daughter. When Bassianus, Lavinia, and Titus's sons flee in protest, Titus stands against them and slays one of his own. Saturninus marries the honey-tongued Tamora, who vows vengeance against Titus. The ensuing maelstrom serves up tongues, hands, rape, adultery, racism, and Goth-meat pie. There's irony in which two sons survive. Written by
Titus. Where to begin? Oh yes, at the beginning. William Shakespeare wrote Titus Andronicus early in his career. VERY early in his career, and such is apparent. On stage, this script as a play must be awful. Character motivations are not explained, there are holes in the action, a character leaves the country and then comes back, seemingly only to set up the climax. There is little explanation of action, and it is less poetic than some of his masterworks (Midsummer, Hamlet, Lear). And yet, Julie Taymor, renowned for her fantastical vision of The Lion King on Broadway, chose this, possibly Shakespeare's most problematic play, to be her introduction to film.
This adaptation is wonderful. Why? Because it fills all the holes of the initial play. She adds scenes without dialogue, she makes the setting timeless and symbolic, and removes it from the realm of reality, wherein the play never worked to begin with. She tranforms a difficult play about revenge into much, much more. It is now a feast for the eyes, a commentary on revenge, power, theatre, film, and villiany.
To be fair, I am not giving Shakespeare enough credit. The play he wrote has many marvelous aspects, mainly the Aaron - possibly Shakespeare's greatest villian. He is unrelenting. And in the film, he is wonderfully acted. Titus is a good character too, and Anthony Hopkins acts him well enough.
It would be easy for a Shakespeare purist to say "eww, what was that," but I would call this retelling a gem. It is moody, gritty, passionate, clever, awe-inspiring, and true to the theme of the original script. It has only added to Shakespeare's words. Is it perfect? No. It does make you stretch yourself, the ending is a head-scratcher, but this will be my favorite Shakespeare adaptation for a long time to come. 9/10
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