Inaccessible Oedipus: Comparing Olivier's And Branagh's Women (An Contrast Between Gertrude And Ophelia In Lawrence Olivier's Hamlet And Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet)

1153 words - 5 pages

Strong, clearly defined characters can make or break a film. While a movie may advertise the best special effects ever seen or have a plot filled with unforeseen twists, few viewers will pay any attention if the characters are bland or difficult to identify with. This is especially true for the many adaptations of Shakespeare’s works, and it can lead to challenges as modern filmmakers try to create a film that the masses can enjoy. Both Branagh and Olivier created film versions of Hamlet that were critically acclaimed, but only one has resonated with the contemporary viewer. Branagh’s rejection of the oedipal themes seen throughout Olivier’s film makes Branagh’s women more accessible to a modern audience than the women in Olivier’s film.Freud first introduced the idea of an Oedipus complex; he described it as a part of normal psychosexual development where a young boy falls in love with his mother and may even develop sexual feelings towards her. The boy sees his father as a rival for his mother’s love, and the child often develops aggression or even jealously towards his father (Coleman) The problem with using the Oedipus complex in describing Hamlet is that the Oedipus complex peaks between ages 3 and 6. While parents of young children may readily identify with the concept as seen in their children, few can relate to the idea of a grown man who harbors sexual feelings for his mother. People best identify with characters or ideas that are often seen in their own lives; if a character’s portrayal is too dependent upon a foreign idea, such as an Oedipus complex, today’s viewer will not be able to understand or relate to the character because of it.Olivier’s film has very overt oedipal themes, and this is most obvious in his portrayal of Gertrude. Olivier started by casting Eileen Herlie as Gertrude. Herlie was 13 years younger than Olivier; Crowl notes that her younger age helped create the moments between Herlie and Olivier that are full of a sexual tension not seen between any other characters in the film (148). The sexual tension is most apparent in the scene in Gertrude’s closet. Gertrude and Hamlet twice kiss passionately, and Gregory notes that the sexual overtones go even further, until “Hamlet nestles in his mother’s breasts and lays his head in her lap” (6). During this scene, when Hamlet says “Leave wringing of your hands” (3.4.35), he shoves Gertrude down upon the bed; it seems that only the appearance of the ghost stops the two from having sex. The scene also ends with a fade out on Gertrude still sprawled across the bed, leaving the scene with a lasting impression of the sexual tension between Hamlet & Gertrude.In Branagh’s Hamlet, Gertrude’s relationship with Hamlet is missing the oedipal overtones found in Olivier’s film; this portrayal emphasizes Gertrude as a mother, making her more accessible to the modern audience than Olivier’s...

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