Saturday, December 06, 2008

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

IFC recently showed Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. I fell in love with this movie the first time I saw it in college. After seeing it again, it remains one of my all time favorites. If you enjoy language and, specifically how imprecise it can be, you might like this movie. Here are some of my favorite excerpts:
Rosencrantz: Do you think death could possibly be a boat?
Guildenstern: No, no, no. Death is not. Death isn't. Take my meaning? Death is the ultimate negative. Not being. You can't "not be" on a boat.
Rosencrantz: I've frequently not been on boats.
I love how what was meant could easily be turned into meaning something completely different.
The Player: The old man thinks he's in love with his daughter.
Rosencrantz: Good God. We're out of our depths here.
The Player: No, no, no! He hasn't got a daughter! The old man thinks he's in love with his daughter.
Rosencrantz: The old man is?
The Player: Hamlet … in love … with the old man's daughter … the old man … thinks.
It is so easy for there to be multiple possible meanings in a single sentence. Take this: The old man thinks he's in love with his daughter. The character meant it to mean this:
  • Polonius (the old man) thinks that Hamlet is in love with Ophelia (the old man's daughter)
But the imprecision of the original statement had multiple correct interpretations including these:
  • Polonius thinks that Hamlet is in love with Hamlet's daughter (which is first way that Rosencrantz interpreted the sentence)
  • Polonius thinks that Polonius is in love with Polonius' daughter (which is the 2nd way that Rosencrantz interpreted the sentence)
  • Polonius thinks that Polonius is in love with Hamlet's daughter
What should this tell us about how we interpret the Bible?
Guildenstern: What's the first thing you remember?
Rosencrantz: Oh, let's see. … The first thing that comes into my head, you mean?
Guildenstern: No – the first thing you remember.
Rosencrantz: Ah. … No, it's no good. It's gone. It was a long time ago.
Guildenstern: No, you don't take my meaning. What's the first thing you remember after all the things you've forgotten?
Rosencrantz: Oh, I see … I've forgotten the question.
Or how about this one. What's the first thing you remember?
  • Do you mean: what is the first memory that popped into my head the instant you said that?
  • Or do you mean: what is the first thing that I've ever remembered? Because I know that I remembered things as a kid, but I don't remember what they were now?
There are, of course other quotes in the movie that are just as fun, but not about the imprecision of language:
Rosencrantz: Did you ever think of yourself as actually dead, lying in a box with a lid on it?
Guildenstern: No.
Rosencrantz: Nor do I, really. It's silly to be depressed by it. I mean, one thinks of it like being alive in a box. One keeps forgetting to take into account the fact that one is dead, which should make all the difference, shouldn't it? I mean, you'd never know you were in a box, would you? It would be just like you were asleep in a box. Not that I'd like to sleep in a box, mind you. Not without any air. You'd wake up dead, for a start, and then where would you be? In a box. That's the bit I don't like, frankly. That's why I don't think of it. Because you'd be helpless, wouldn't you? Stuffed in a box like that. I mean, you'd be in there forever, even taking into account the fact that you're dead. It isn't a pleasant thought. Especially if you're dead, really. Ask yourself, if I asked you straight off, "I'm going to stuff you in this box. Now, would you rather be alive or dead?" Naturally, you'd prefer to be alive. Life in a box is better than no life at all, I expect. You'd have a chance, at least. You could lie there thinking, "Well. At least I'm not dead. In a minute somebody is going to bang on the lid, and tell me to come out." [bangs on lid] "Hey, you! What's your name? Come out of there!"
[Long pause]
Guildenstern: I think I'm going to kill you.
Or another favorite of mine:
Rosencrantz: Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? There must have been one. A moment. In childhood. When it first occured to you that you don't go on forever. Must have been shattering. Stamped into one's memory. And yet, I can't remember it. It never occured to me at all. We must be born with an intuition of mortality. Before we know the word for it. Before we know that there are words. Out we come, bloodied and squawling, with the knowledge that for all the points of the compass, theres only one direction. And time is its only measure.
All told this is a geek's movie. Hence why I enjoy it so much.

1 comment:

Niffer said...

I don't know why I didn't notice this post before. I love this movie! It's one of the favorites for me, my husband and a bunch of our friends. They quote it all the time and it makes me laugh.

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