21 April 2013

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead 1990
Director: Tom Stoppard
  • Based on book: No, well, Hamlet and Stoppard’s stage play.
  • Cast: Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Richard Dreyfuss, Joanna Roth, Iain Glen, Donald Sumptner, Joanna Miles
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Gary Oldman    Harry Potter, Prick Up Your Ears, Sid and Nancy, Léon, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Bok of Eli, The Dark Knight, The Scarlet Letter, Immortal Beloved, Romeo Is Bleeding, True Romance, Dracula, Nil by Mouth (director)
    • Tim Roth   Dark Water, The Beautiful Country, To Kill a King, Planet of the Apes, Gridlock’d, Pulp Fiction, Rob Roy
    • Richard Dreyfuss – Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, American Graffiti, What About Bob, Postcards from the Edge, The Good-bye Girl
    • Joanna Roth (evidently not related to Tim Roth) – Sliding Doors, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 
    • Iain Glen – Downton Abbey, Tara Road, Kingdom of Heaven
    • Donald Sumptner – Wallander, Merlin, Rose and Maloney, The Constant Gardener, Cold Lazarus, Richard III, Antony and Cleopatra
  • Why bought: Hamlet, Gary Oldman, Tim Roth
  • Seen: Several times. The first time before our Shakespeare days. Now: January 27, 2013.

It was probably the first time I saw this movie that Gary Oldman and Tim Roth entered my list of favorite actors right up there at the top.  This was sometime before Hal and I were into Shakespeare and we really had no clue, only vaguely realizing after awhile that this movie was about Hamlet.  It didn’t matter. The movie was simply very, very funny and played to perfection by Oldman and Roth.
Some things have changed. We’ve read Hamlet twice, seen it a dozen times in various films and become quite thoroughly acquainted with the original.  But one thing is the same.  This is still one of my favorite movies and it gets better every time I see it.
These two characters are more or less anonymous in Hamlet in spite of their distinctive names.  They play an important role but everybody mixes them up and they have approximately zero personality.
In the movie, they themselves don’t have a clue about what’s going on or who this Hamlet guy is, only that they were summoned by some king.  They bumble around the castle, getting in people’s way, playing nonsense question games with each other – quite funny and clever actually – and quibble back and forth about this and that.  Here, too, no one can tell them apart, including themselves.  The Oldman character spends much of his time making profound scientific discoveries that the Roth character dismisses as stupid games. Only in reading the credits at the end do we see that Rosencrantz is the scientist and Guildenstern the scoffer.
And so they stumble off to the fateful boat trip.
It’s an ingenious movie.  I love it.

10* of 10.

PS We just rewatched it - August 31, 2014 - with our friends KJG and JG.  If anything, it's even better than last time!


  1. Say, Ruby, isn't it time for a violent disagreement between us? Here's one. :)

    Today I have finally seen this movie and now I simply can't understand the praise lavished on it, not only by you but by the vast majority of reviewers. It bored me to extinction.

    It goes without saying that the idea is a fine one. But the execution! Horrendously lame! It also goes without saying that Roth and Oldman are fine actors. But what could they do with this gibberish of a script? Nobody can save such mess.

    I see potential here, potential for a fine comedy that is both uproariously funny and dead serious - as every comedy should (at least try to) be. Quite possible is some other hands. Not in Tom Stoppard's, not as far as I'm concerned. Obviously - a little too obviously! - there are weighty issues on discussion here. But what's the result? Constant chatting of nonsense. It isn't even a good farce.

    How you could find their games "quite funny and clever actually" is beyond me. I found them puerile and dull.

    The only thing that I really liked about this movie was Richard Dreyfuss as the The Player, together with the whole company. Now these were funny and, occasionally, profound. It was especially clever to foreshadow the ending of the play in another "inset play". These fellows were a godsend amidst a desert of dullness.

    If only Stoppard had turned the two morons into men of the world like The Player! Now that would have been a great play/movie! But he either wouldn't or couldn't.

    It's an ingenious movie all right. But I hate it.

    Having said all that, I have the audacity to ask you for a favour, namely to explain the ending to me. What exactly happened to Ros and Guild? Were they hanged or did they become part of the theatre company? I think, but am not sure, the latter is what happened. If so, a nice twist in the end. I grant that.

    2* out of 5.

  2. You're right, Alexander, we've been in agreement far too long now. We don't want to overdo the "great minds run in the same channels" thing. But now that the Hamlet movies are beginning I expect we'll be at loggerheads about half the time. So this is the first time you've seen R&G Are Dead? Maybe it's an acquired taste? On the other hand you seem rather...mmmm decided.
    The whole point is that they're morons, that's the funny and profound point! I guess you'll have to write your own play. Which I would be happy to see!
    Interesting question, I've always seen it as them getting hanged. I'll have to think about your idea next time I see it.
    And write a new comment when you've watched it again. I enjoyed this one a lot!

  3. I certainly misssed that point. R&G being morons is a fine idea - if hardly original, as Will had made so quite some time ago. But then I really don't see why Stoppard hurled at the poor fellows all this stuff about science and philosophy. It doesn't sit well with the moronic mentality. He should have played for pure and unabashed farce. Then again, maybe he did and I missed that point as well.

    If I could, I would rewrite R&GAD all right. I'd rather make them scientists and philosophers - that is, one scientist and one philosopher - and then try to develop a high comedy from their worldly and cynical viewpoint. The idea does have lots of potential. And what a fun it would be if Hamlet is made to look like a damned fool when seen through the eyes of R&G! Alas, I have not the gift to do the writing.

    I have never been able to understand this phrase, "acquired taste". It has always meant to me nothing but another version of "not my cup of tea". Which is a truism. Nothing is everybody's cup of tea. Even the greatest art has had some prominent detractors (hell, Shakespeare's complete works were denounced by no other but Leo Tolstoy), not to mention countless people who couldn't care less about Beethoven or Michelangelo or Shakespeare or any other towering genius you can think of.

    For my part, taste is the immediate and instinctive understanding when certain work is first experienced. It is almost entirely emotional phenomenon. Later I can deepen my appreciation by revisting the work in question and doing some intellectual labour. Thus I may finally get all I can from it. But no amount of revisiting or hard thinking can create this specific understanding where it is lacking in the first place. Music (and the early books of Alan Walker) thought me that. I can listen to Brahms' Second Symphony a thousand times. But I know it will never impress me half as strongly as it did his Fourth Symphony when I first heard it. Go figure.

    That's why I'm afraid there will be no watching again of "R&GAD". Life's much too short to bother with things I'm quite obviously incapable of appreciating. I am indeed decided, as am I in any other case when my first experience of a certain work is a total communication breakdown.

    There are, of course, works (such as Will's "The Tempest") which I plan to revisit despite a lacklustre first meeting; and there's no guarantee that it'll be worth it next time. But these works have given me at least something - if only a vague sense that I "didn't get them" but may possibly do so in the future. But when the first contact produces absolutely nothing of the kind, I am convinced it's foolish of me to persist.

  4. Alas for you, your loss! Acquired taste is one of the greatest things invented! Without it I wouldn't even have found Shakespeare. And I still think you ought to write your version, whaddya mean you don't have the gift?