Published Feb 01, 2000Director Julie Taymor must be some kind of gutsy, uninhibited genius. She's taken Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, which T. S. Elliot called "one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written," and made it into a brash, head-trip of a movie that stays with you like a disturbing, half-remembered dream. It's full of daring images that haven't been filtered through any notions of good taste, or even good judgement. There's the startling image of Titus's daughter Lavinia (Laura Fraser) standing on a blackened tree stump in the middle of a gurgling swamp - her hands have been lopped off and replaced with twigs. Or the image of Roman soldiers, marching like stiff automatons, their entire bodies caked in dried mud as if they'd just been dug out of centuries-old graves. Titus contains all of the brutality of the play, but it doesn't exactly fixate on the throat-slitting and limb-severing. The focus is clearly on the tortured, venomous emotions of the characters, and the cast rises to the occasion - just watch how Jessica Lange spits out lines like "Oh cruel, irreligious piety!" Anthony Hopkins portrays Titus himself, and he has the unenviable task of making sense out of a character who nonchalantly kills his youngest son in an early scene, and then later sheds an ocean of tears when two of his remaining sons are imprisoned. Obviously, there are some serious dramatic flaws in the source material, but Taymor and her cast barrel through them and embrace every opportunity for grand, over-the-top set pieces. Even if some of the deliberately inserted anachronisms (e.g., video games, speed metal, machine guns) seem like strained attempts at broadening the implications of the story, I'm still in awe of the breadth of Taymore's vision. She isn't at the mercy of Shakespeare's words; she uses them as a springboard for her own insane artistry.