This was a strange movie… However i can say without any hesitation that i quite liked it, loved it even.
I remember always being curious about his film since it came out in 2000, and that curiosity was almost completely dependant on that poster above this text. I remember seeing it in theatres and just wondering what the whole thing was about, why was Anthony Hopkins smeared with paint, wearing that helmet, and on top of it all he wears an extremely hard to read look on his face (sadness? Apathy? Or was he just thinking about what he was going to have for lunch?). All of this filled me confusion as i didn’t know how was i supposed to feel about that image? Fascinating though it may be, it filled me with a sense of foreboding, and the title itself commanded a sense of authority and grandeur.
Of course i’ve seen that face for years, in DVD bargain bins and movie poster shops, but i never actually bothered to look up what Titus was about, and didn’t know a thing about it until i clicked and read this article from cracked. Suddenly i was very interested in seeing that movie with that poster that had seared itself into my memory. As i have a fondness for Shakespeare that i’ve carried through since high school. Although again it took several more years and listening to “Victorious Titus”* to finally convince me to watch the movie.
I’m quite glad that i waited to see it until now as i probably would’ve hated it in my youth, or at least not have understood what the hell was going on.
reading up on the play it would appear that it has a rather mixed critical opinion as to its merits. Some say it is the usual par for course of The Bard’s genius, whereas others deride it as revenge play garbage filled with deplorable acts of violence and an uneven tone. Julie Taymor’s genius is to realise the merits of both of these arguments, and as a result she decides to ramp up everything else about the production in order to make the violence and unintended comedy as natural to the proceedings as the Roman’s riding around in motor cycles will allow it to be.
Taymor along with her cinematographer, production, and costume designer create an absolute visual feast that taken on its own is worth a look and I honestly haven’t really seen a movie that looked quite like this one, it recalls the theatricality of the stage but engages in sequences that only can be done as part of cinema. The imagination and colour pours out of the screen and assaults the senses with a unique and perverse majesty.
Hopkins, Landen, and Lennix all give memorable performances and all of the cast members are quite clearly enjoying their roles, with each of them reveling in the depravity, insanity, and outlandishness their roles have to offer.
There are times when the “out there” interpretations of the scenes served to really confuse and bewilder me (the biggest example would have to be the messenger’s entrance when bearing Titus’ son’s heads back to him), and the production style really isn’t for everybody and is in danger of becoming tiresome due to the fact everybody ends up screaming their lines at one another.
Another unavoidable ding to the film would have to be with the merit of the negative critical opinion in regards to Shakespeare’s text. The play is written as a tragedy but the over the top violence and speeches bring so much unintentional humour to the proceedings that honestly you could easily classify this as a very black comedy. Some of these oddities to name a few would be: Laveena carrying her father’s hand in her mouth, or Aaron’s over the top soliloquy about all the horrible things he has done is his life (which had me almost in tears laughing), or how depraved things start to get when the cannibalism starts up (i mean What… The… Fuck?!). Clearly Shakespeare was trying to find out how much he could get away with here, and wisely he decided to tone things down for later plays.
The film also tends to drag a little during its middle, and even though i considered it almost sacrilegious to alter Shakespeare, i can see now how a bit of trimming shears would do the film a bit of good.
I keep the bad in mind when recommending this film for anyone to watch, it really isn’t for everyone’s tastes. While i believe Taymor made the right choice going for broke by acknowledging, revelling, and rejoicing the fact that this play is by far the most outlandish thing The Bard has ever written was the right thing to do with Titus Andronicus, it is indeed not to everyone’s tastes.
But the genius with TITUS i believe lies with the fact that although Shakespeare wrote a tragedy (and failed at it) it is through adaptation that shows just about any work can be brought to a new light.
**** OUT OF FIVE STARS
*as an aside i found out about “Victorious Titus” by reading about how Tyler Bates completely (and i mean completely) ripped it off for his “Returns a King” track in his score for 300. Seriously, if you haven’t clicked those links give them a listen, i’m shocked that Bates would even try to pass off that as his own work.