50/50 Review #23: Titus.

A couple weeks ago, Nolahn wished me luck with this movie, telling me only to think of it as "the Bard does torture porn." And I must say... that's a rather apt description. Titus (Anthony Hopkins) returns home from war with some slaves, including Queen of the Goths, Tamora (Jessica Lange), and her sons, Chiron (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Demetrius (Matthew Rhys). Titus is offered the role of emperor, but instead nominates the elder son of the former emperor, Saturninus (Alan Cumming), who accepts. And not only does he accept, but he spurns his younger brother, Bassianus (James Frain), by demanding his wife (and Titus' daughter), Lavinia (Laura Fraser), to be his own. Of course this doesn't happen and Titus ends up taking Tamora instead, and Tamora, along with her Moor slave lover, Aaron (Harry Lennix), plan revenge on Titus and his family, including Titus' son, Lucius (Angus Macfayden), and brother, Marcus (Colm Feore). And a bunch of really messed up stuff follows.

When I say this story is messed up, I'm not being hyperbolic. (Warning: The following is pure spoilers.) For instance, there's a moment where Chiron and Demetrius kill Bassianus and then rape his wife--Titus' daughter--Lavinia. After they rape her, they cut out her tongue and then cut off her hands and replace them with twigs from trees. And later, they demand one of the guys cuts off his hand to release the hostages that are Titus' other sons... and this happens... only to realize they were lied to and his sons had already been decapitated and special delivered to Titus, along with his hand. So eventually, Titus pretends to have gone crazy and gets the emperor and Queen to come to a special dinner... where he kills his own daughter and feeds everyone (including Tamora and Saturninus) the bodies of Tamora's sons baked into a meat pie. And then everybody proceeds to kill everyone else. That's not even including any of the random orgies or any of the bizarre crap that goes on in this movie. (End Spoilers)

All of that being said, I really liked the story. Strangely, it didn't feel like a Shakespeare story to me at all, but that's probably because it was done so early in his career. The language was there, but it didn't have that same poetic flair that his other, more popular plays had. I've also read that the play itself is full of so many problems and plot holes and confused motivations, making it rather unpopular. But things seemed to have at least somewhat smoothed themselves out for this adaptation. The characters of Titus and Aaron, in particular, are really fascinating. Titus borders on sanity and insanity, while Aaron the Moor is probably one of Shakespeare's most dastardly, evil, and overall greatest villains. This guy is seriously demented.

And what really helped with that was the acting. As usual in these types of adaptations, the acting was done very well. Harry Lennix, who played Aaron, was superb. And, of course, Anthony Hopkins played crazy very well. But he still kept you wondering "...is he really crazy?" Finally, I was incredibly surprised with Colm Feore, who seemed to fit into this world perfectly and was rather fantastic in his relatively small role. So while everyone was great on the whole, those three were the standouts to me.

However, I can't talk about this movie without saying one thing: it's freaking weird. First and foremost, the film starts off with a boy in his kitchen playing with action figures. Then it's like bombs start going off and the house is collapsing and these roman soldiers burst in and grab him. They take him out into this random colosseum where there's some strange interpretive dance number, but with marching and spears instead of dance. It's very bizarre. And all of this goes on for about 10 minutes. And everything just seems to clash with the last setting-wise, and I was just so confused and fascinated at the same time.  The weird doesn't stop there. A lot of the visual cues are just out-there. I can't really describe it. But this is a Julie Taymor movie we're talking about.

The visuals are weird, as well, in the fact that it's mainly set in this strange fantasy realm where multiple timelines exist simultaneously, so outfits can be ancient, modern, or futuristic, there can be talk of swords and knives and others can use guns, among other things (using cars and horses, etc.). That being said, despite its weirdness and confusing nature, it's all gorgeous. As I said, this is a Julie Taymor movie, so it all looks fantastic. It's some truly beautiful cinematography and whatnot. To top it off, it has one hell of a music score to back it up. Even letting the DVD menu play for a while, the score had me hooked in and ready to start it based on that alone.

I can't in sound mind recommend this movie to everyone. It's definitely not for everyone. The Shakespeare language is there, but the biggest downfall of that is that there isn't the usual wit and poetic flow that he tends to have that makes it worth listening to. But the story is really interesting, especially if you like revenge stories or just really messed up stories. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if Chan-wook Park ever decided to make a version of this. It seems to be right up his alley theme-wise. So yeah, it has the story, characters, visuals, and score that are really going for it. But for me, the biggest thing that brings it down is the fact it's over 2.5 hours of Elizabethan English that isn't interesting to listen to--at least for the most part (there are some great speeches in the second half of the movie, but they're few and far between). But if it sounds interesting to you, by all means, check it out. There are far worse ways to spend 3 hours.

A Keanu 'Whoa'


  1. Ha, success! I actually saw this long before "torture porn" seemed to be its own genre, so I never equated it to that. When we studied this in college, my professor made mention that some "scholars" refuse to believe this was even written by Shakespeare, because it was so early in his career and is unlike anything else he made. I also read that Taymor's take on mixing time periods was that she envisioned this taking place in a modern day world where the Roman Empire continued to rule. Love her eye for style no matter what her reasoning. And as a final note, I used Tamora's monologue in the woods for many of my auditions back in the day. Loved it!

    1. Yup, you definitely picked an interesting one here. I didn't mention this in the review, but like the last film, there are also more instances where our villain (in this case Aaron) talk directly to the camera. I loved Aaron in general, though. Such a great character. And his speeches at the end (both during the "hanging" scene and the "burial" scene) were two of my favorite speeches in the movie--though it's arguable the second is just an extension/continuation of the first.

  2. This was insane!! I saw it with my cousin not too long ago

    -Carlos Hernandez

  3. I felt so bad for you when I saw this on the roster... I haven't seen this film, but I read the play, and that was quite enough for me.

    I'm glad you were able to appreciate it. Between the needlessly gruesome story and Julie Taymor's "artistic take" (I have a far less family-friendly phrase in mind) of blurring time periods, this one isn't for me.

  4. Admittedly it's been some time since I've seen this adaptation, but is one of the films that makes me think that Shakespeare's plays are a fine example of dramas which should be adapted to film as often as possible. The play is more text than action, so a film version will be "true" to the text but could still become the director's own creation like her. It's also, probably, the most effective film that Taymor has managed to do. Not excellent, but certain of itself.


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