Thursday, July 14, 2011

Titus 1999

Sometimes you get an itch you just need to scratch and this week my itch was Julie Taymor's version of Will Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus.  Titus is a full fledged horror film.  In Shake's day it was called a "tragedy" but trust me, this is full on Goth horror.  I saw this when it was released, well before we all knew Julie Taymor as the person who was fired from Spiderman: Turn of the Dark.  I remember being deeply disturbed by it and thinking that Shakespeare was one fucked up individual.  Seeing it again I am more convinced than ever that this is true.

For those of you unfamiliar let me give you a run down of some of the crazy messed up shit that happens in this play.  Titus Andronicus (Anthony Hopkins) has just returned to Rome after defeating the Goth's in a 10 year battle.  He has brought with him the Goth Queen, Tamora (Jessica Lange, pre face-lift) and her sons as prisoners.  To appease the dead, Titus executes Tamora's oldest son, despite her pleas to save his life.  She vows revenge and Shakespeare teaches us a very important lesson:  Don't piss of Goth Queens!

The Roman Emperor dies and the people elect Titus as their new leader.  Being a loyal soldier, Titus refuses the honor and instead nominates the Emperor's oldest son, Saturninus (Alan Cumming).  Saturninus chooses Titus's daughter, Lavinia, as his bride, despite the fact that she is already betrothed to his brother, Bassianus.   Lavinia and Bassianus run away, assisted by Titus's other sons.  Titus declares them all traders and kills one of his own sons during the pursuit.  I realize this is a lot of explainin' but trust me this is going somewhere.

During all of this Saturninus decides to make Tamora his bride.  Tamora convinces Saturninus to spare Titus and his family.  Her motive is clear: she intends to take her own revenge on the General who killed her son.  She enlists her lover, a Moor that was captured alongside her, to destroy Titus and his family.  What follows is a brief summary of some of the horrible shit that ensues:

  1. Emperor's brother stabbed to death
  2. Lavinia raped
  3. Lavinia's tongue cut out
  4. Lavinia's hands cut off, replaced with branches
  5. Two of Titus's sons are set up for murder
  6. Titus's hand cut off
  7. Titus's sons are beheaded
  8. Lavinia carries around Titus's hand in her mouth
  9. Titus writes with blood from his stump
  10. Tamora's other two sons killed like pigs and then baked into a pie
  11. a Baby almost gets hanged
  12. Tamora eats her son/pie.
  13. Then understandably sticks her hand down her throat
  14. Lavinia killed by Titus
  15. Tamora killed by Titus with a knife in the neck
  16. Titus killed via candlestick to the heart
  17. Saturninus killed via spoon shoved in his mouth and out the back of his skull
  18. a Baby almost gets killed.  Again.

The moral of the story is that revenge is a dish that includes the flesh of the children of your mortal enemy.  Actually, revenge is a dish that makes monsters of us all.  This play was very popular during Shakespeare's time but fell out of favor during the Victorian years.  No shit.  This is worse than a lot of things that can be found in contemporary horror.  Sure, people may get sewn together ass to mouth, but to babies get hanged?  I think not.

This film is interesting and bloody, but a little long.  I think if it was remade today it would go even farther as far as gore and horror are concerned.  What stuck in my mind seeing it in 1999 and again recently was the image I have included above.  I remember having nightmares about it in 1999 and probably will again tonight.  Branch hands are scary.  So is Shakespeare.  



Titus is one kickass movie. And for my money Aaron the Moor (Harry Lennix)is the best part.

Jonathan said...

It is tough to make happy jazz hands with branches.

Anonymous said...

Titus was pretty surprising to me. I was expecting something stupid or boring, but this is neither.

Oh by the way, you will be featured on Friday on Its On Random!

Jen said...

Thanks Random Girl! Looking forward to it.

danyulengelke said...

Great review!

We're linking to your article for Theater of Cruelty Wednesday at

Keep up the good work!