Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead

You wouldn't naturally think to compare Shakespeare with Eminem, but there was a long stretch of this movie where I was thinking about how this movie (which is about two minor characters from Hamlet) is similar to the rapper. Yes, one is highbrow and the other lowbrow, but both of them have the same strength and weakness: their ability to use language so deftly often obscures how little is actually being said. If you really try to parse what their message it’s clear that there’s more to appreciate about their formal technique than there is to appreciate in their worldview.

Which is perhaps the point of Stoppard's writing, which is intentionally absurdist. Rosencranz and Guildenstern are doomed comic relief in Hamlet, and they never understand the scope of the mess they are involved in, so it does make a certain sort of sense that when they aren't interacting with the serious characters of Shakespeare's play they are spinning their wheels. But the same way that Eminem has never recorded an album where he consistently put his talents to interesting uses I couldn't help but feel that Stoppard's text only intermittently says something worth hearing.

Sure, Tom Stoppard has clever punchlines, and tricky turns of phrases, and a dazzling array of allusions – but this existentialist play is so far removed from actual existence that it all felt very empty to me. There’s something to the idea that behind every big drama are bit players that are the leads in their own lives, but this version of their story squanders that opportunity by pushing it too far into verbal ping-pong where no points are scored. The scenes where Rosencranz and Guildenstern debate which one of them should respond to which name are funny enough, but they are pretty lightweight against the backdrop Stoppard chose to work with.

Even if it isn't as fulfilling as it could be, displays of technical prowess will always have some intellectual merit, and there is much to be appreciated in the way the actors embody Stoppard's tricky verbal rhythms. But I will say this: there were times when I tuned out for a minute during scenes that were meant to explore complicated philosophical issues to think about a world where Eminem was making a movie about Shakespeare and Tom Stoppard was rapping about chainsaws, and that's not a good sign that the cast and crew accomplished what they were aiming for.

Winner: No Contest (we both slept a bit during the movie)

Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead on IMDB