Her Tempest (2010), which is based on William Shakespeare’s play under the same title (ca. 1610) is well-designed, sensually appealing, and it imposes a clearly feminist reading. Taymor changed the sex of the main character – Shakespeare’s Prospero, the Duke of Milan, becomes Prospera (Helen Mirren), the widow to the Duke.
It’s a family drama. Prospera had been wronged by her brother-in-law – evil Antonio (Chris Cooper)- who usurped power in Milan after his brother’s death. He accused Prospera of witchcraft and banished her and her toddler daughter, Miranda (Felicity Jones), from Milan.
The two women were doomed to die on the sea, but they reached the shore of an island which was “full of noises”. It was inhabited by two creatures – Caliban (a bastard son of Sycorax and the God of the sea, Setebos) and Ariel, a spirit whom Prospera released from a tree. Both Caliban and Ariel became Prospera’s servants with whom she was able to perform her revenge, 12 years after her banishment.
Trivia: Most of the film was shot on Lanai, the sixth biggest island of Hawaii, aka “the pineapple island”.
In her brilliant TED talk, Taymor discusses her inspirations and creative process. She says that she always looks for an image, an ideogram, that could summarize the whole plot. For example, it was the circle for “The Lion King”. In the opening scene of “The Tempest” we see a sandcastle – a beautiful, yet fragile construction. It is a symbol of elusive power, a symbol of waiting, and a symbol of lost (or unknown) identity – especially to Miranda.
Our lives are transient, but we can extend them into immortality with our art and our children. This was a famous Horatian “Non omnis moriar” theme (“I shall not wholly die”) that Shakespeare so neatly used in what we call today “procreation sonnets” (I-XVIII):
From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory (Sonnet 1, lines 1-4)
Earthly things perish. We perish. Our power – just like Prospera’s magic – is ephemeral. She abjures it when her work is done. It starts with the storm that shipwrecks her enemies and ends with the prospective wedding of Miranda and Ferdinand – the future king of Naples.
The mother is to end a tempestuous period of her life – in which she had to fight to survive and execute harsh rule on Ariel, Caliban and Miranda. She can return home.
Taming the spirits was a difficult task, yet as we see in Taymor’s adaptation, taming one’s own soul was even harder. Like the wind blowing in the ship’s sails, Prospera’s exhalation is a sound of relief – of letting some things go. Also, of letting the past go, which, like a sandcastle, dissolved in the troubled waters of the Mediterranean sea to make room “for the brave new world”.
Take a look at how I see The Tempest through wonderful objects and interiors:
In Act IV, scene 1, Prospero reflects on the fragility of human life:
— We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. (IV.i.156–158)
Let’s use this time wisely, focusing on people and things that give us joy, and letting some hurtful past go.