Hamlet, Sarcastic Classics

Hamlet – Act I, Scene I

I’ve wanted to do something like this for a while. Let me know if you enjoy it, or if I’m just trying too hard to be funny! Just kidding. I always try too hard.

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Our story starts on a dark and stormy night in Denmark. We arrive just as the night watch is changing shifts at the royal castle of Elsinore, and rumours are flying that there’s a ghost has been spotted for the past few nights stalking the battlements. Horatio, who has been to university and therefore is the smart one of the group, is sceptical about the existence of any ghost but agrees to listen to the guard’s story anyway. It’s common knowledge that spirits have excellent dramatic timing, so the ghost chooses this exact moment to turn up.

It looks strangely like the King of Denmark who recently died and Horatio asks exactly what it thinks it’s doing floating around looking like the dead king. The ghost seems to take offence at this line of questioning, probably because Horatio ruined his dramatic entrance, and leaves. Horatio, who has been to university and knows about these things, instantly declares this a Bad Omen for Denmark.

The guard asks if this has anything to do with all of those weapons and ships Demark has been making recently and our resident exposition man Horatio says that he’s probably right. Things aren’t good in Denmark at the moment; in fact, you could say they were rotten. (Ha ha, literary reference to a line that hasn’t happened yet!)

Some years ago the king, who was called Hamlet but isn’t our Hamlet and shall henceforth be known as Hamlet Sr., killed the King of Norway Fortinbras in a duel. The terms of the duel required the loser to relinquish all of his lands to the victor, which seems like a pretty reckless agreement to make if you ask me. Now Fortinbras’ son who is also called Fortinbras – were there only five names in the whole of the middle ages? – has grown up and decided that he wants to claim back the lands his father so carelessly lost. Denmark is preparing for war, and all the omens are saying that this will not go well.

Pay attention to Fortinbras, because the first time I read Hamlet I didn’t and then when he turns up again I was all “who the hell is this guy?”. He’s also worth paying attention to because he draws some interesting parallels with Hamlet. Both of their fathers have *spoilers for a 400 year old play* been murdered, but they both have very different ways of dealing with it. Hamlet chooses the noble path of sulking, which is very satisfying but doesn’t really achieve anything, whereas Fortinbras decides that the best way to deal with his grief is to invade Denmark. I like Fortinbras. He thinks big.

The ghost tries again with its dramatic entrance, but the cock crows and ruins his big moment again, so he buggers off. Horatio orders one of the guards to poke the ghost with his spear, which really makes me doubt Horatio’s position as the smart guy. If you’re looking for ways to piss off a ghost attacking it with sharp objects is probably pretty high on the list, and it’s not like they could really hurt it anyway because it’s a freaking ghost. Horatio ignores the guard who points this out to him and decides that the best thing to do is to tell Hamlet that there’s a spirit wandering around with his dead father’s face, which may be one of the strangest things your best friend can say to you, although I’m not sure it would quite break into my Top 10.

And so begins the greatest soap opera ever told. Buckle up, it’s going to be a melodramatic ride.

Film Reviews, Reviews

Sucker Punch Review: I Hate Zach Snyder

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Beware of spoilers if you haven’t seen this yet. Also beware of anger. Lots of anger.

Sucker Punch came out in 2011 and I saw it a couple of years after. I’ve been thinking about it recently and I’ve only just been able to put into words quite what I think about it.

The plot is slightly convoluted but definitely interesting: Baby doll is committed to an asylum by her evil stepfather who pays off a corrupt official to have her lobotomized. In her head Babydoll creates a fantasy world where she envisions the asylum as a strip club/brothel where she teams up with four other girls to escape before she has to meet the High Roller, a wealthy man who has ‘bought’ her. Every girl has to dance, and it turns out that Babydoll’s dancing is hypnotising to men. The girls use this as a distraction while they steal the items they need to escape. We never see Babydoll dance; instead we see a post-apocalyptic fantasy/sci-fi world where the girls fight through armies of robots and literal dragons to get the fantasy representation of the items they need to escape the brothel. The film switches frequently between layers of the story, and each version of events parallels the other two.

There’s a lot about the film that I really like. The action sequences are great, and I like the multi-levelled plot even if it is a little up itself. The general idea of girls working together and empowerment is great. If this film had played itself straight then I could even have accepted the skimpy outfits (I would have rolled my eyes a lot, but it’s hardly anything new and the film’s based on video games, so what do you want?) and I would have probably enjoyed it. The problem is that the director, Zach Snyder, claims that this is the ultimate feminist film.

When faced with accusations of sexism in the way he dressed his female characters Snyder threw back this:

Someone asked me, “Why did you dress the girls like that, in those provocative costumes?” And I said, “Well, think about it for a second. I didn’t dress those girls in the costume. The audience dressed those girls.” And when I say the audience, I mean the audience that comes to the movies. Just like the men who visit a brothel, [they] dress the girls when they go to see these shows as however they want to see them.

I’m not entirely sure what he’s trying to say here, but it seems to be his slightly pretentious way of saying that the characters are only dressed like they are because that’s what the audience wants to see, and it’s the audience projecting the sexuality they want to see on to the girls. I remember reading an interview (although I can’t find it now) where Snyder claimed that the people who thought the film was overtly sexual were of the same ilk as the men who frequent the brothels in the film. Basically, if you interpret the women as sexual, you’re projecting your own debauched sexual perceptions onto them and don’t you feel stupid and dirty now you disgusting pervert.

This argument is bullshit. No Snyder, the audience didn’t “dress the girls”, you did (or at least the wardrobe department under your direction). The film purposely uses traditionally sexualised imagery – girls in short skirts and tight crop tops, pigtails, the name ‘Babydoll’ – in a sexual context – a brothel/strip club – with camera angles designed specifically for the male gaze – hello panty flashes and between-leg shots – and then tries to turn around and tell the audience off for interpreting these things as sexual. Don’t get me wrong, I get what Snyder thinks he’s trying to say: that these things shouldn’t be inherently ‘immoral’ and that not everything that women do or wear should be sexualised. I’m totally all for this message! It’s just that there’s a huge difference between subverting a trope to a get a point across and just doing the thing and claiming that it’s a critique. Someone filmed all those upskirt shots, Snyder, and it wasn’t me.

It’s not the point he’s trying to make that I don’t like; I’m all for women in both film and real life wearing whatever they want as they kick robot butt. What really rubs me up the wrong way is Snyder’s attitude. When people said that they thought the film was sexualised, he threw his head back dramatically and cried that ‘People just don’t understand my art!’, and even went as far as to suggest that the people who didn’t like the film were perverted idiots. It didn’t seem to occur to him that if people weren’t ‘getting it’ then he probably communicated his message badly – really badly.

However, the outfits aren’t even the thing that made me really angry. There’s so much more.

Not on the ‘unnecessary sexualisation’ track but definitely on the topic of ‘Zach Snyder doesn’t know how to tell a story’, it also pulls a ‘twist’ ending where the film tries to claim that the protagonist is actually Sweet Pea because she survives to carry on the story, suggesting that Snyder doesn’t understand basic narrative concepts; the protagonist is the main character, the one that drives the story i.e. Babydoll. Sweet Pea survives, sure, but only because of Babydoll’s actions and sacrifice that form the entirety of the plot. Sweet Pea has barely any screen time and does very little other than argue with Babydoll. Survival does not a protagonist make. This is a very mild complaint compared to the others, but it still irritated me a lot.

On a more severe note: obviously the women are constantly under threat of sexual violence with several attempted rapes for multiple characters (but they’re definitely not sexual beings guys), which is an unfortunately common thing in fictional media. It’s a disgusting and unnecessary shorthand for disempowering a female character that shows up in stories that really don’t need it, and this film is particularly guilty of fetishising it; a lot of the dramatic tension comes from the fact that the girls are under constant threat of assault, and you almost anticipate the moment when it will happen. A large part of the plot is the build up to the unwanted encounter between Babydoll and the High Roller who she has been ‘sold’ to, and this is literally what Babydoll is fighting to avoid.

This leads me on to the thing that angered me the most: the High Roller. In the theatrical cut he’s curiously omitted, and the film ends up making very little sense. What happens to Fantasy!Babydoll after Real!Babydoll’s lobotomy? How does her meeting with the High Roller turn out? What’s up with that doctor? Despite the fact that the film is practically incoherent without it, however, I think I’d really rather watch that version than the extended cut which includes a proper meeting scene between Babydoll and the High Roller. The reason? It’s disgusting.

Babydoll is captured, accepts her fate and goes to meet the High Roller who has ‘bought’ her. She expects a rape; however, he’s gentle with her and talks to her like a human being. He has no intention of raping her, but instead he’ll wait until she comes to him willingly. The scene is painted both by the film itself and the actors and directors as a love scene and as Babydoll finally owning her sexuality. Babydoll has found a man who doesn’t seem to want to hurt her. Awww, how sweet.

But we seem to be forgetting the tiny fact that this man has literally bought her virginity. He basically says to her “You’re going to sleep with me, but you’re going to enjoy it. Also, I totally own you.” Does Snyder just completely not understand what rape is? Just because it’s not violent doesn’t mean it’s consensual! He may not be going to take her by force, but other than when it happens Babydoll has absolutely no choice in the matter: she will sleep with him. How is it possible for Babydoll to consent to a man who literally bought her? WHY DID YOU DO THIS SNYDER?

So please, if you’re going to watch this film, do so with a critical eye. Enjoy the baddass action scenes. Enjoy the multi-layered plot and the connections between the worlds. Enjoy Oscar Isaac’s face with his stupid moustache. Hell, even enjoy the skimpy costumes; that’s what they’re there for after all. Just please, never call this film feminist.

And Zach? If we ever meet in real life, we’re going to have words.