The Horror Honeys: If you think you know Shakespeare....Think again.

If you think you know Shakespeare....Think again.

A Head Honey/Revenge Honey Review

Titus (1999)

Head Honey:
Being that part of my list of University degrees included a giant chunk of Shakespeare study (but only the Histories and Tragedies, fuck that funny romance shit) and Classics, there was NO way that I could pass up an opportunity to review one of my favourite "Shakespeare for people who don't read Shakespeare" films....mostly because even I was shocked at how brutally and beautifully this play was brought to life.

This play features two of my favourite villains in all of Shakespeare's plays and circles around the delicious themes of, murder, rape, mutilation, betrayal, sacrilege, political commentary, and a hefty dose of tasty revenge.  If iambic pentameter, puts you to sleep, you might want to give this title a miss...this is highbrow horror at its finest.

The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus was an extremely popular play when it was first released, fascination with ancient suffering was a big deal in 16th century England - but that might also have had something to do with all of the sex and violence...

The Initial Rundown: Returning victorious from war against the vicious Goths (an Eastern German people, not the sad looking kids in black hanging out near Hot Topic at the mall), the aging General of Rome's armies, Titus Andronicus, instead of returning to peace in Rome, he returns to turmoil in the streets and bitter fighting between the sons of the former Emperor for the right to the throne.
Titus decides the fight by choosing the new Emperor...but he chooses badly (all of Shakespeare's heroes have a fatal flaw...Titus' fatal flaw is an unflinching sense of honour and duty, which no one else has at this point), so he chooses really, really, fucking badly.

The new Emperor's brains appear to be located between his legs as he betrays Titus to take to wife the Queen of Goths, a former disgraced prisoner, and brings her insane (but super hot) sons into the bosom of Rome.

Then, the shit hits the proverbial fan...

"Princely shall be thy usage..."

Why are the crazy ones so much hotter?
One of my favourite scenes in the play (and subsequently the film) involves the Empress' sons, Chiron (NOM NOM Jonathan Rhys Myers) and Demetrius (Matthew Rhys), in a beautifully imagined depiction of the rape, and horrifyingly inventive mutilation of Titus' daughter, Lavinia (a sadly annoying Laura Fraser who plays a better mute)...

An excerpt:
Demetrius: [in the woods with the maimed and mutilated Lavinia] So, now go tell, an if thy tongue can speak, who 'twas that cut thy tongue and ravished thee?
Chiron: Write down thy mind. Bewary thy meaning so, and if they stumps will let thee play thy scribe.
Demetrius: See how with signs and tokens she can scrowl.
Chiron: Go home. Call for sweet water, sweet water! Wash thy hands!
Demetrius: She hath no tongue to call nor hands to wash; and so let's leave her with her silent walks.
Chiron: And 'twere my cause, I should go hang myself.
Demetrius: If thou hadst hands to help thee knit the cord.

Through a complex series of character development pieces (and some faux craziness, mixed with real craziness) the audience is masterfully brought to the gloriously visualized climax.  Titus jovially enacts his final revenge on Tamora, Queen of Goths, by feeding her her own children and then murdering her (awesomely) in front of the Emperor and their high command.  It's all delightfully mad and very disorienting...and badass enough to have you yelling "EAT THE FUCKING PIE" at the screen...or maybe that's just me...

Titus: He that wounded her hath hurt me more than had he killed me dead

Head Honey Fun Fact: Director Julie Taymor fought against an NC-17 rating for the film, but finally agreed to make cuts in the Roman orgy scene in order to obtain an R rating. None of the gruesome violence, however, was considered inconsistent with an R rating.  Yeah that's right...there's an orgy scene...several of them.

Back to my favourite villains...Harry Lennix's Aaron takes the whole fucking cake.  He's wrong, he's dirty, he's despicable...he LOVES it, and he OWNS it...tasting every breath and revelling in every single tear or thought of despair he causes...  "Aaron will have his soul his face..."  I LOVE this horrible man.

I'll leave you with the best Shakespeare quote I have ever had the pleasure of reading and hearing on the big screen...

Aaron: [At gallows] Oft have I digged up dead men from their graves and set them upright at their dear friends' doors, even when their sorrow almost was forgot. And on their skins as on the barks of trees, have with my knife carved in Roman letters, "Let not thy sorrow die, though I am dead."

Head Honey verdict:  If you like your revenge as a dish served steaming hot, with a side of silver spoon shoved directly into the soft palate of your foe...definitely give this lavish, visual assault a watch.

Revenge Honey's Perspective:

When it comes to revenge, there is absolutely no one better than Shakespeare… And don’t let any philistines tell you differently. (I mean seriously... Have you SEEN or READ Othello? That bastard was revenging all over the place!) But perhaps the absolute best Shakespeare revenge drama is one of his lesser-known and utterly unappreciated works, Titus Andronicus. So how appropriate that one of the most awesome adaptions of a Shakespeare work I have ever seen on film is one that almost no one talks about. What the hell people?

Truth be told, this movie has been sitting in my Netflix queue since Netflix was invented, until our illustrious Head Honey told me she wanted to do a tandem review. Now I wonder what the hell was wrong with me for waiting so long to watch it. I love the shit out of Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus, AND revenge, not to mention Alan Cumming, Jessica Lange, and the absolutely beautiful/homoerotic stage direction of Julie Taymor. Titus does not disappoint on any of these points.

If Titus were released now, I think the reception would be totally different. In 1999, America wasn’t nearly as into gore, and revenge, and you know...culture, as it is currently. Plus, with the epic costuming, mixed-genre filming, and Broadway-style staging that is so popular at the moment, this movie would be a frigging gold mine. Either way, BLOOD! Buckets and buckets of blood and betrayal and sex! What more do you people need?!  Even if you aren’t a fan of Shakespeare’s language, Titus is so utterly engaging and stunning that it doesn’t matter. You can’t look away and even if you can, you won’t want to.

Plus… BLOOD! Titus is a Revenge Honey must see, so you must see it. Now.