Black Swan, Hamlet, The Banquet

Yes, another post about film, but these are after all the last days before the Oscars.

I have been thinking again about Black Swan, and been reminded of Shakespeare’s most famous lines:

A tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

And, as often, thinking of the Bard made me think about many other things. In particular of Hamlet in relation to Black Swan. Of course, there are many possible readings of Hamlet, but for the sake of simplicity we can classify them into two main categories:

1. The story, as told by the Ghost, and understood by Hamlet, is true: his uncle has indeed murdered his father, he himself kills Polonius, etc.

2. Hamlet is raving mad, and the paternal murder story upon which the entire plot revolves is no less an hallucination than the ghost who “reveals” it.

Pierre Bayard leans towards the non-literal reading, and he argues in his Enquête sur Hamlet (Investigation of Hamlet) that the sweet prince is in fact his own father’s killer. Here, as for The Hound of the Baskervilles, I disagree with Bayard’s reading. Hamlet Père, as I see it, simply died of natural causes, and the rest of the sound and fury signifies nothing more than the hallucinations of his son’s very severely disturbed mind.

Speaking of which, let’s go back to Black Swan, in particular the scene in which Nina “kills” her rival. This, in retrospect, is strongly reminiscent of the killing of Polonius by Hamlet. However, the immense difference between Black Swan and Hamlet is the degree of skill and subtlety in the story telling: in Hamlet, the literal reading of the play always remains possible, in Black Swan, we know from the start that what we are going to watch is nothing more than Nina’s descent into her own self-created hell.

On a final note, my favorite Hamlet-inspired film remains The Banquet. The story focuses more on the character of Empress Wan/Queen Gertrude (Zhang Ziyi) than in the play, but I found the transposition of the action to Imperial China fascinating.



The Banquet, with Zhang Ziyi


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