Inaccessible Oedipus: Comparing Olivier's and Branagh's Women (an contrast between Gertrude and Ophelia in Lawrence Olivier's Hamlet and Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet)

Essay by trailerparkmedicCollege, UndergraduateA+, May 2008

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Strong, clearly defined characters can make or break a film. While a movie may advertise the best special effects ever seen or have a plot filled with unforeseen twists, few viewers will pay any attention if the characters are bland or difficult to identify with. This is especially true for the many adaptations of Shakespeare’s works, and it can lead to challenges as modern filmmakers try to create a film that the masses can enjoy. Both Branagh and Olivier created film versions of Hamlet that were critically acclaimed, but only one has resonated with the contemporary viewer. Branagh’s rejection of the oedipal themes seen throughout Olivier’s film makes Branagh’s women more accessible to a modern audience than the women in Olivier’s film.

Freud first introduced the idea of an Oedipus complex; he described it as a part of normal psychosexual development where a young boy falls in love with his mother and may even develop sexual feelings towards her.

The boy sees his father as a rival for his mother’s love, and the child often develops aggression or even jealously towards his father (Coleman) The problem with using the Oedipus complex in describing Hamlet is that the Oedipus complex peaks between ages 3 and 6. While parents of young children may readily identify with the concept as seen in their children, few can relate to the idea of a grown man who harbors sexual feelings for his mother. People best identify with characters or ideas that are often seen in their own lives; if a character’s portrayal is too dependent upon a foreign idea, such as an Oedipus complex, today’s viewer will not be able to understand or relate to the character because of it.

Olivier’s film has very overt oedipal themes, and this is most obvious in...