Thursday, October 27, 2005


The Merchant of Venice [2004]

I have always been weary of this play. Shakespeare is truly versatile, granted, and speaks with a commanding and often urging voice. But when I read this one, probably back in high school, I could not get past the anti-semitism of it. Maybe I read it wrong, or over-simplified it, like people in high school are supposed to do. But it just tasted foul to me. I felt—and actually still feel—that Shylock was not just treated too harshly, but that he was treated that way because he was a jew. And that can't be tolerated. Enter this grand production, starring no less than both Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons. And grand it is. Pacino gives his trademark goosebump performance, expecially in the Hath not a Jews eyes? speech. I mean, he doesn't just nail it. He defines it. Man o man, what an overpour of talent. The big performance surprise though, for me, was Lynn Collins. She was the exact Portia that I remembered reading. Shakespeare has the odd strong and bright woman in his plays, but Portia is arguably the strongest, the wisest, the bravest, the most eloquent. She strides into the chamber where Shylock is debating his legal premise for demanding his pound of flesh—and summarily disarms him with his own logic. Breathtaking. She then goes on to crush him, ruin and humiliate him, which shows her single, but gigantic, character flaw. Not so breathtaking. Actually, that whole business is painted in such racist terms that you don't feel that it is she that is in moral lapse. Instead, you feel it is the whole play, and you just kind of slide backwards out of the whole thing at that moment. I will say though, that the movie actively tries to temper that anti-semitic streak of the play. And that is laudable. But it is not enough to cover all of the ugly, underlying contempt that Shakespeare, or just that whole time in which he lived, seems to have had for people of that particular religion. Maybe it's just my complete intolerance for racism in any form. Any notion that presents the view that we are not all just as equal, just as good, when we crawl into this world, naked and shivering, is a notion that I will not debate, but dismiss with my utmost contempt.