No play fills me with more joy than Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Very few films do either. The movie version, directed by Tom Stoppard from his own play, is a glorious cacophony of slightly lumpy pacing and wonderful, chewy language. Richard Dreyfus’ Player King is note perfect and the way the play shifts gear into Shakespearean verse for their scenes in Hamlet, which wash over them like a tide, is balletic.
But it’s Tim Roth and Gary Oldman who make it. They’re an Elizabethan Morecambe and Wise and show staggering comic timing that the rest of their careers has bizarrely almost completely ignored. Roth’s endlessly calm, patient, seething Rosencrantz (or Guildenstern) is convinced he’s going to understand a way out of their problem. Oldman’s adorable, puppyish Guildenstern (Or Rosencrantz) simply wants to go home. And maybe invent a few things along the way.
A linguistic labyrinth wrapped in a puzzlebox, the story is a postmodern nightmare that somehow takes the eternal part life of play characters and turns it into something reassuring. Somewhere out there, on the roads between here and Elsinore, these two interchangeable men are talking about a coin coming up heads. But right now, they’ve got a lesson in Newtonian Physics for you, on this week’s Sunday Moment of Zen.