Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead
directed by Tom Stoppard
(Cinecom, 1990)

The movie Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead is based on Tom Stoppard's original play of the same name, which was originally produced in the 1960s. Considering that I wasn't even remotely born at that period, I'm not about to compare the play to the movie.

So, what's this movie about? Well, if you know your Shakespeare -- specifically, Hamlet -- you'll remember that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Hamlet's college buddies who appear briefly in the play and, much like everyone else in the story, end up dead by the end of it. Of course, death is a natural occurence in most of Shakespeare's tragedies.

This particular version of the story is shown from the perspective of these two bit players. If you're up on Hamlet, this movie is outstandingly funny. If you know a bit of history, science and physics, this movie is outrageously funny. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern try to piece together and understand their existence based on what is happening to and around them. Throughout, the major characters of Hamlet make brief appearances, speaking Shakespeare's famous lines. The rest is all Stoppard.

These two characters, whose existence is barely explained in Hamlet, lurk mostly offstage while one of the world's most famous and intriguing plays unfolds around them. Of course, they completely miss the plot as they try to figure out who they are and what they're doing in Denmark. Besides Hamlet and other luminaries of the court, they also interact with other non-entities of the play, such as the troupe leader (played lugubriously by Richard Dreyfuss) and the various actors who tragically play out the murder of Hamlet's father.

The movie that is a play within another play combines some slapstick, intellectual comedy, and historical and scientific innuendos that will keep you rolling in your seat. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, as portrayed by Gary Oldman and Tim Roth early in their blossoming careers, give an outstanding performance as you try to guess who is who and whether it is really important to know which is which.

If you've a hankering for Shakespeare, rent and watch Hamlet (preferably Mel Gibson's version). Then watch Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead. You'll come away with a new appreciation for comedy and this delightful film.

[ by Jade Falcon ]

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