The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
So bloodthirsty is Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus" that critics such as Harold Bloom believe it must be a parody--perhaps Shakespeare's attempt to settle the hash of Christopher Marlowe, whose plays were soaked in violence. Other readers, like the sainted Mark Van Doren, dismiss it out of hand. Inhuman and unfeeling, he called it, and "no tragedy at all if pity and terror are essential to the tragic experience." Certainly all agree it is the least of Shakespeare's tragedies, as well as the first.
But consider young Shakespeare near the beginning of his career, trying to upstage the star dramatists and attract attention to himself. Imagine him sitting down to write the equivalent of today's horror films. Just as Kevin Williamson's screenplays for "Scream" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer" use special effects and wild coincidence to mow down their casts, so does "Titus Andronicus" heap up the gore and then wink to show the playwright is in on the joke.
"Titus" as "Scream 1593"? Bloom cites the scene where Titus is promised the return of his sons if he will send Saturninus his hand--only to find the hand returned with only the heads of his sons. Grief-stricken, Titus assigns tasks. He, with his remaining hand, will carry one of the heads. He asks his brother to take the other. That leaves the severed hand. At this point in the play, his daughter Lavinia has no hands (or tongue) after being raped and mutilated by Queen Tamora's sons, and so he instructs her, "Bear thou my hand, sweet wench, between thy teeth." Bloom invites scholars to read that line aloud without smiling, and says Shakespeare knew the play "was a howler, and expected the more discerning to wallow in it self-consciously." That is exactly what Julie Taymor has done, in a brilliant and absurd film of "Titus Andronicus" that goes over the top, doubles back and goes over the top again. The film is imperfect, but how can you make a perfect film of a play that flaunts its flaws so joyfully? Some critics have sniffed at its excesses and visual inventions--many of them the same dour enforcers who didn't like the biblical surprise in "Magnolia." I have had enough good taste and restraint for a lifetime, and love it when a director has the courage to go for broke. God forbid we should ever get a devout and tasteful production of "Titus Andronicus." It cannot be a coincidence that the title role is played by Anthony Hopkins. Not when by Act 5 he is serving Tamora (Jessica Lange) meat pies made out of her sons and smacking his lips in precisely the same way that Hannibal Lecter drooled over fava beans. "Titus Andronicus" was no doubt Lecter's favorite Shakespeare play, opening as it does with Titus returning to Rome with the corpses of 21 of his sons and their four surviving brothers, and pausing in his victory speech only long enough to condemn the eldest son of Tamora, vanquished queen of the Goths, to be hacked limb from limb, and the pieces thrown on a fire.
Titus is not the hero of the film because it has no hero. He is as vicious as the others, and when he notes that "Rome is a wilderness of tigers," he should have included himself. Hopkins plays him, like Hannibal Lecter, as a man pitiable, intelligent and depraved, as he strides through a revenge story so gory that there seems a good chance no one will be left alive at the end.