Laurence Olivier's Freudian Hamlet

In the opening of his 1948 Hamlet, Laurence Olivier identifies indecisiveness as the prince's tragic flaw, the "particular fault" that brings about his downfall. As the film unfolds, Olivier provides a Freudian explanation for that indecisiveness. Though I don't buy this interpretation of the play, the film remains one of my favorites. Its unforgettable performances and creative camera work make it one of the best Shakespeare movies, and if I had to choose a single Hamlet to take to a desert island—along with a solar-powered DVD player—I'd choose this one. I've come to enjoy its Freudianism the way I enjoy the clothing or cars in a film noir, as an entertaining artifact of mid-twentieth-century culture.

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