Hamlet (1990) Movie Review and Character Analysis

In the Hamlet interpretation starring Mel Gibson as Hamlet (a normal age as Hamlet is 30 in the text), interesting conclusions can be made from the analysis of the characters. The value of watching different interpretations is that it can give different perspectives of the same text, perhaps seeing things that others did not catch.

Obviously, this movie was based on the play “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare. If you don’t know the plot, go read a book.

Director Franco Zeffirelli is known for his directorial interpretations of famous Shakespeare works. Through his directing and Gibson’s acting, Zeffirelli achieves a very “human” interpretation of “Hamlet”- especially concerning Hamlet himself. Hamlet and the others are not overly dramatic, and certainly relatable to the audience in this interpretation. This movie was also enjoyable because it portrayed Hamlet’s initial “playing the part” of being crazy as humorous. It is a highly sexualized interpretation, with emphasis on the mother and son romance.  The bedroom scene with Hamlet and his mother and queen of Denmark Gertrude, played by Glen Close, are loaded with Freudian overtones, displaying their unhealthy attraction to each other. What is interesting in this portrayal is the characterization of Hamlet as the aggressor, almost thrusting himself onto his mother. Perhaps the sexuality and the humor throughout his transition from acting to madness are what make this interpretation of Hamlet so human.

Another characterization of Hamlet is the accentuation of his intelligence and rationality resulting in his indecisiveness, and ultimately, his madness. He begins playing the part of being crazy as a tool to supply revenge for the death of his father, but misses the most opportune time to act upon his quest for vengeance because of his indecisiveness on the merits of the murder. It can be seen that this extremely irrational choice was the result of the declension of his ability to reason after the death of Polonius played by Ian Holm. More or less, he’s thought himself into a corner. This movie places emphasis on this, thus emphasizing the argument that Hamlet is the most clear and levelheaded at the end of the movie/play when he acknowledges that he must follow through with his plan, even though it will result in his death.

This movie showed Hamlet as a very “round” character, with an arguably distinct transition from acting to true madness. While many could dispute the scene in which the transition is made, the descent into madness occurred after he fights with Ophelia about her father and the catalyst into true craze occurred in the scene where he realizes her death. Once she dies, Hamlet realizes that his moment of anger at her betrayal not only affected him, but his love. While many argue the legitimacy of his love, including characters within the story, this interpretation did a nice portrayal of a legitimate love between Ophelia (played by Helena Bonham Carter in her most normal role) and Hamlet. Her death gave to the rational-minded young prince of Denmark the human realization that he caused her death. Perhaps, he feels helpless and unfulfilled after Ophelia dies because of his inability to reconcile the situation.

What really motivates Hamlet are:  his grief over the deaths of his father, Ophelia, and Polonius; his love for Ophelia, Horatio, Polonius, his mother, and especially his father;  pursuit of revenge for his father; and the acknowledgment that the appearance of his father’s ghost was not a figment of his imagination.

Overall, the movie was visually and mentally stimulating giving an accurate portrayal of his madness. Many argue Zeffirelli cuts a lot of “important” things from the play but that’s irrelevant because he’s a master film maker who pulled the human spirit and hidden depths from a hyper-analyzed play.