Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (film)

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Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
RosencrantzGuildensternAreDead.png
DVD cover
Directed by Tom Stoppard
Produced by Emanuel Azenberg
Michael Brandman
Written by Tom Stoppard
Based on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead 
by Tom Stoppard
Starring Gary Oldman
Tim Roth
Richard Dreyfuss
Music by Stanley Myers
Cinematography Peter Biziou
Edited by Nicolas Gaster
Production
company
Distributed by Cinecom Pictures (US)
Hobo Film Enterprises (UK)
Release dates
  • 5 September 1990 (1990-09-05) (Venice)
  • 12 September 1990 (1990-09-12) (Toronto)
  • 8 February 1991 (1991-02-08) (United States)
  • 24 May 1991 (1991-05-24) (United Kingdom)
Running time 118 minutes[1]
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Box office $739,104[2]

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is a 1990 comedy-drama film written and directed by Tom Stoppard based on his play of the same name. Like the play, the film depicts two minor characters from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who find themselves on the road to Elsinore Castle at the behest of the King of Denmark. They encounter a band of players before arriving to find that they are needed to try to discern what troubles the prince Hamlet. Meanwhile, they ponder the meaning of their existence. The movie won the Golden Lion at the 47th Venice International Film Festival.

The film stars Tim Roth as Guildenstern and Gary Oldman as Rosencrantz,[3][4] although a running theme throughout has many characters, themselves included, uncertain as to which is which. It also features Richard Dreyfuss as the leading player, Iain Glen as Hamlet, Ian Richardson as Polonius, Joanna Miles as Gertrude, and Donald Sumpter as King Claudius. The film was shot in various locations around Yugoslavia. This was Stoppard's debut as a film director, and to date it remains his only film directorial credit.

Plot[edit]

The film, like the play, focuses on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and their actions (or lack thereof) within the play of Hamlet. The film begins as they travel on horseback to Elsinore, contemplating fate, memory and language. Rosencrantz finds and continually flips a coin which always comes up heads, causing Guildenstern to conclude that something is wrong with reality. They meet a travelling troupe of tragedians on the way, and during their conversation with the lead Player, they are mysteriously transported into the action of Hamlet at Elsinore. They wander around the castle, trying to catch up to the action and understand what is going on by listening to other parts of the play. They are asked by the Danish royal couple to stay awhile in order to help find out the cause of, and hopefully cure, Prince Hamlet's gloomy state. They spend their time outside the scenes in Hamlet trying to figure out what is wrong with the prince and what is required of them.

The remainder of the play follows the Shakespearean drama whenever the two characters are "on stage," while the title heroes remain largely occupied with the futile hazards of daily life whenever the "main action" is elsewhere. Soon the very same theatre troupe arrives to play at court, as part of the Bard's tragedy. The Player simultaneously forbids them to stop watching their real play on the road, which cannot exist without an audience, and explains some of the plot and logic of conventional rules of plot-staging and -writing.

Ultimately, they are sent to England and outside the action of the play again. The final part takes place on the ship to England, where they read the letter they are to deliver with Hamlet – discovering that it is an order for his death. They decide to pretend they never saw it. Hamlet replaces the letter, and (as described in Shakespeare's play) escapes on an attacking pirate ship. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern worry about what they are to do now that Hamlet is gone, unaware that Hamlet has altered the letter so that it calls for their death rather than his own. The Player finishes the action by reading the letter that sentences them to death, and both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are hanged. The film ends with the tragedians packing up their cart and continuing on their way.

Cast[edit]

Motifs[edit]

Free will vs. Determinism[edit]

As in the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are expressed as not having control over their circumstances. They are consistently taken from place to place or put in situations without their control and occasionally even without their knowledge (the boat scene). Similarly, they are unable to control where their lives are taking them, specifically towards their deaths.

Discovery vs. Invention[edit]

During the film, Rosencrantz has a series of amusing missed discoveries of physical principles. Examples include where he plays with a series of clay jugs hung from the ceiling and discovers that bouncing the end jug into the next one causes the jug at the opposite end to bounce like a Newton's cradle. But when he demonstrates this intriguing device to Guildenstern, he draws the end jug back too far and it merely breaks, spilling its contents. Other examples include his almost discovering the ancient Greek principle of steam power (the Hero or Heronas archetype of steam blowing against a pinwheel), a scientific experiment in which a bowling pin falls far more quickly than a feather (Newton's law of universal gravitation), and when he is accidentally hit on the head by a falling apple (erroneously supposed to have happened to Newton as a child), and almost having a Eureka moment in the bath when he notices that a toy boat moves up when he displaces water in the tub, but he is distracted by the naked backside of a woman, which then turns out to be that of a man.

Besides his experiments in physics, in an early scene Rosencrantz also seems to invent the hamburger, indeed a multi-layered Big Mac-like sandwich, when the pair stop to eat while still travelling to Elsinore; Guildenstern tells him to stop playing with his food. He also, after making a traditional paper plane, folds one in the shape of a more modern biplane; Guildenstern crumples it up in frustration. There may even be a reference to General Relativity when Rosencrantz talks about death and a-priori concepts: "With the knowledge that for all the points of the compass, there is only one direction and time is its only measure."

Reception[edit]

Critical reaction for the film tended towards the positive, with an overall rating of 69% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.[7] A common criticism in negative reviews was that the material is more suited to the stage than to the screen; examples include Vincent Canby's review, in which he says, "[Stoppard] delights in sounds and meanings, in puns, in flights of words that soar and swoop as if in visual display. On the stage, this sort of thing can be great fun... In the more realistic medium of film, so many words can numb the eardrums and weigh upon the eyelids like old coins. This is the effect of 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead'".[8] Similarly, Roger Ebert states that "the problem is that this material was never meant to be a film, and can hardly work as a film."[9]

The film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival as well as the Fantasporto Directors' Week Award. For his work in the film, Gary Oldman was nominated for the 1991 Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead.

In 2011, Total Film named Oldman's portrayal of Rosencrantz as one of the "greatest moments" of his career, and wrote, "He's a blitz of brilliant comedy timing and pitch perfect line delivery. Crucially, he's also hysterical".[10]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD in the UK in 2003, and in the US in 2005, featuring interviews with Oldman, Roth, Dreyfuss, and Stoppard.[11]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]