Hamlet Goes Business (Aki Kaurismäki, 1987)
Finnish Title: Hamlet liikemaailmassa
Aki Kaurismäki's Hamlet Goes Business is a pretty much accurate re-telling of William Shakespeare's famous tragedy Hamlet. The characters are the same, most of the plot points are retained, yet quite interestingly, it's an entirely different creature. First and foremost, i is more of a comedy, the type of comedy that Kaurismäki famously makes --- droll, deadpan, at times comical, and always funny.
It is set in Finland, or more specifically corporate Finland (inside cement buildings and boardrooms), wherein the poisoning of the father of Hamlet (Pirkka-Pekka Petelius) has caused a stir in a corporation that owns sawmills and other plants within the area. Immature Hamlet inherits more than half of the corporation's stocks, while Klaus (Esko Salminen), who we first see switching a poisoned drink with another while torridly kissing Gertrud (Elina Salo) who is on her way to serve her husband his nightly drink, becomes board chairman and opts to sell the company's assets to buy a substantial share in the world's production of rubber ducks. Unenchanting Ofelia (Kati Outinen) spends most of her time deflecting Hamlet's sexual advances --- her Polonius (Esko Nikkari) and brother Lauri (Kari Väänänen) have their own separate plans for their respective futures.
Hamlet Goes Business has been described as a satire on corporate greed. The film, by converting one of Shakespeare's most notable plays that portrays humanity in its most complex into this flatly noir-ish if not overly simplistic tale, succeeds in using Shakespeare's narrative while disposing of any of its resounding themes and replacing them with Kaurismäki's irreverent observations of the blatant inhumanity in corporate affairs. Relationships are as black and white as the film's gorgeous cinematography. Relationships aren't invested with emotions or virtues like trust, confidence, or friendship. Instead, treachery and ill motives flow smoothly from these characters, very much like rubber ducks getting manufactures in clockwork fashion by huge machines.
Hamlet is, I believe, Shakespeare's most complicatedly human character. His existence in literature is through his tale of vengeance; yet that is complexed with his human traits --- his needs to assure himself of his father's murderer (despite that being revealed by his father's ghost), his uncertain romantic affections with Ophelia, his even more uncertain musings about his own existence and humanity's place in this world. Shakespeare has given him beautiful soliloquys to express his encompassing mistrust with humanity and himself. Yet, in the end, as fate and his own doings would've led him to a quickened turn of events (that famous climax that ends with a foreign prince's recognition of his life's honor), it is his character's fallible nature that makes him distinctly human, and deserving of the respect afforded to him.
Kaurismäki's Hamlet is anything but respectable. His uncertainty for his actions are hinged on the character's selfishness rather than a genuine recognition of human error. His affections for Ofelia is more predatory and sexual. He begs that Ofelia give up her virginity, and in an instance where he tries to comingle love with his lust, he is unable to confront Ofelia. He doesn't have comrades, only employees --- yet he has this illusion of being the center of everything. Shakespeare acknowledges Hamlet as a character deserving of his attention; yet Kaurismäki's Hamlet forces the attention to himself (him being the controlling shareholder of the corporation, him being the employer and the wealthy man, him being the only son of his widowed mother).
And that is also where Kaurismäki treads away from Shakespeare's narrative. Shakespeare ends his play with recognition for his beloved character. Kaurismäki turns Hamlet into quite the bastard, and concludes his borrowed story justly without overriding the new themes of his carefully crafted modification of Shakespeare's beloved classic.
This post is my contribution to Coffee, Coffee and More Coffee: The William Shakespeare Blog-A-Thon.