A couple who is expecting their first child travel around the U.S. in order to find a perfect place to start their family. Along the way, they have misadventures and find fresh connections with an assortment of relatives and old friends who just might help them discover "home" on their own terms for the first time.
In Julie Taymor's version of 'The Tempest,' the main character is now a woman named Prospera. Going back to the 16th or 17th century, women practicing the magical arts of alchemy were often convicted of witchcraft. In Taymor's version, Prospera is usurped by her brother and sent off with her four-year daughter on a ship. She ends up on an island; it's a tabula rasa: no society, so the mother figure becomes a father figure to Miranda. This leads to the power struggle and balance between Caliban and Prospera; a struggle not about brawn, but about intellect. Written by
The decision to switch the gender of the lead character was a diving board to a whole new appreciation of the play. It had everything to do with Helen Mirren and a coincidental exchange that Julie Taymor had with the actress. When Taymor encountered Helen Mirren at a party, she had already envisioned Mirren in the role and their conversation cemented her decision. "We were talking Shakespeare," Taymor recollects, "and she had no idea I was planning this film when she mentioned that the first Shakespeare she ever did was Caliban in 'The Tempest,' and she actually said to me, 'You know, I could play Prospero-as a woman.' And I said, 'Do you want to? Because I've been preparing a film version of "The Tempest" with exactly that in mind.' And, fortunately, she said yes." See more »
The Tempest is not the most riveting drama, because the larger realization is a certain weariness with it. This is given to us as a magician who halfway through the story abandons his powers of illusion, who after conjuring to him the characters and plotting the story of revenge pauses to reflect on the emptiness of the endeavor. This is why it is still powerful, we are all Prosperos in our way, alone in our island with the thoughts we conjure up to inhabit.
In Shakespeare's time, the inspiration for Prospero must have likely come from the scandalous topic of John Dee, the communion with spirits and visions through crystals certainly point at that as well as more broadly the notion of a benign magic. Magic since well before Dee and up to Crowley has tried its best to mask in so much hoopla what other spiritual traditions make clear from the start: that man is an embodied consciousness with the ability to direct that consciousness to vision. Shakespeare no doubt understood this was exactly his own art, a rich and complicated magic of conjured vision in peoples' minds.
So if this is to be powerful, you have to adopt a very intricate stance. Show both the power of illusion as vision and, contradictory, the emptiness of it, the fact it is underpinned by an illusory nature of reality. Greenaway masterfully did this in his Prospero film by having Prospero's creation of the play as vision, the vision lush and wonderful, and yet at every turn shown to exist on a stage.
Taymor is too earnest to strike this stance, in fact judging by the cinematic fabrics here she seems unsure of what direction to follow. She is an earthy woman so intuitively builds on landscape, volcanic rock under our feet. Pasolini could soar in this approach judging from his mythic films, her approach is too usual and without awe. The magic is also too ordinary. A few movie effects cobbled together in earnest as something to woo simple souls like Trinculo. Compared to the novel richness of Greenaway this feels like discarded Harry Potter work. And the cinematic navigation is without any adventure, as if Taymor didn't believe there was anything for her to discover outside the play, to conjure up in the landscape itself by wandering to it, so she never strays in visual reflection.
Mirren conveys the reflection as best she can, but that is all here, too little.
Truth be told, the whole world woven around the play is too scematic to satisfy these days. What Shakespeare wove as clean drama about the emptiness of things, the old Chinese poets of meditation would sketch as ambiguous visual landscape. And you know that when Forbidden Planet in the 1950s found a Freudian Id and subconscious monster in the play that too much of the richness of notion has been reduced by interpretation.
So what this needs when someone tackles it next is reinvention, though I suspect no one will surpass Greenaway, his way was but one of many to do it. Recently, another female maker tackled a classic text, Wuthering Heights, it wasn't a success in my view but it was built on a desire to find in the old text the original breathing world seen anew.
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