Titus (1999)

 

 

 

Director:     Julie Taymor. 

Starring:     Osheen Jones (Young Lucius),  Dario D'Ambrosi (Clown),  Anthony Hopkins (Titus Andronicus),  Jessica Lange (Tamora),  Raz Degan (Alarbus),  Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Chiron),  Matthew Rhys (Demetrius),  Harry Lennix (Aaron),  Angus Macfadyen (Lucius),  Kenny Doughty (Quintus),  Blake Ritson (Mutius),  Colin Wells (Martius),  Ettore Geri (Priest),  Alan Cumming (Saturninus),  Constantine Gregory (Aemelius).

 

Roman general Titus Andronicus makes war on the northern Goths;  he was Roman Emperor 79 to 81(preceded by Vespasian, 69-79, and succeeded by Domitian, 81-96)

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

A young boy named young Lucius, wearing a paper bag on his head with slits for eyes and mouth, is supposed to be eating his food at the table.  The plate is surrounded by toy soldiers and airplanes.  He suddenly becomes very destructive and throws his food around and pours ketchup on the plastic soldiers.  He even throws some of the plastic soldiers into his milk. It's a game of violence but then his imaginaltion becomes too strong and there is an explosion that rips from the outside through the kitchen window.  A clown picks the boy up and takes him downstairs.  He pushes a door open and they are in the Roman Coliseum.  The clown holds the boy over his head to an empty coliseum and cheers are heard from a non-existent audience.

Young Lucius looks at the coliseum burning, but it's now his house that is burning.  Then we are back in the coliseum with men carrying covered corpses.  There is a big line of soldiers, their faces and armor caked with dried mud, who move in step with the slow beat of a drum.  Behind the soldiers come other soldiers on motor cycles.  They are followed by the Roman General Titus Andronicus.  Behind him come the prisoners and the captured booty.  The soldiers move around and then they take their helmets off to their general who says:  "Hail, Rome, Victorious . . ."  Besides him is the imaginative and mischievous boy Lucius who is the grandson of Titus.  Spread out in a line are the corpses of 25 Roman soldiers, all sons of Titus, who died in battle for Rome.   

The soldiers go to communal baths and wash the dried mud off themselves.  Now with clean faces and uniforms Titus leads the procession of the dead.  He pours what looks like sand into the boots of the dead all in a line.  Titus now brings the prisoners before him.  He is going to make a sacrifice of one of the prisoners.  He picks Alarbus, the son of the "distressed" queen known as Tamora, Queen of the Goths.  The queen begs for the life of her son.  She says that Titus will stain his own tomb with blood by this act.  Titus says the soldiers dead and living demand religiously an enemy be sacrificed to the gods.  The queen moans:  "O cruel, irreligious piety!"  Her other two sons try to console their mother.

After awhile the soldiers return with the internal organs of Alarbus in a large bowl.  The man carrying the entrails throws them into the fire.  Now the dead are placed into crypts set in the walls.  Titus says:  "In peace and honor rest you here, my sons."

A daughter of Titus, Lavinia, comes to welcome him back to Rome and to pour her tears from a bottle over a tomb set on the floor of the catacom for those who died in war. 

The boy from the modern age sits on one step of a large group of steps.  A newspaper blows by and he grabs the front page.  The headline says:  "Thousands mourn the death of Caesar."  The boy runs to the street where the first born son of the late emperor, Saturninus, is being driven down the street  in a car.  He looks like the pope behind his protective glass shield.  He shouts out asking for the support of the people.  Behind him comes the second born son of the late emperor, Bassianus, in a car asking for the support of the Romans.  The two sons compete to be the next emperor.  Both sons have their supporters walking behind them. 

The two men and their groups of supportersarrive in the square.  Uncle Marcus Andronicus comes out and tells everyone that Titus Andronicus has been chosen to be emperor.  Andronicus asks the brothers to dismiss their followers.  Bassianus agrees and dismisses "my loving friends".  Now Saturninus dismisses his crowd.  Just then Titus shows up and is welcomed home by his brother Marcus. Lavinia tenderly kisses her beloved Bassianus.  Titus tells the people that he does not want to be emperor.  He then turns to Marcus and says:  "Upright he held it, lords, that held it last."  With that Saturninus steps forward.  He tells his people to take out their swords and do not sheathe them until he is Rome's emperor. 

Titus Andronicus tries to calm Saturninus, but the young man will have none of it.  Bassianus whispers to Andronicus that he and his faction would gladly join with that commanded by Titus. But Andronicus says to the crowd that he he would have them make Saturninius the Emperor Saturnine.  The crowd starts cheering for the new emperor.  The very first thing that the new emperor does is to choose to make Lavinia his wife and empress.  Titus looks very shocked, along with Lavinia and Bassianus, but Titus has to go along with this choice and makes a little speech to that effect.  He then presents as gifts to the emperor his Goth prisoners.  Titus tells the Goth queen to cheer up for the emperor will surely treat her and hers fairly. 

Saturninus is pleased.  He takes the fur coat off of the queen and finds her dressed in golden armor.  Saturninus likes what he sees and he whispers to her that he can maker her greater than the Queen of Goths.  He then declares the prisoners free.

As Lavinia and Titus leave the court, outside Bassianus grabs the fair Lavinia as his.  The guards around Titus, who are his sons, now go over to the side of Bassianus and Lavinia.  The emperor comes out and finds out what's happened.  Titus tells the emperor not to worry because he will bring Lavinia back.  One of his sons blocks the father's way, so Titus grabs the son's sword and kills his son.  Another son tells his father that he has been unjust.  Titus calls these sons:  "Traitors!"  He demands that his sons return Lavinia and the son carrying his brother's body replies that the only way she will come back to Saturninus is dead.  The son adds that Lavinia is Bassianus's lawful promised love. 

Titus starts slowly going down the steps.  The emperor comes out and tells him to forget about Lavinia. The emperor thinks both Titus and his sons and daughter are traitors and he will have nothing to do with their blood.  He will take Tamora, Queen of the Goths, as his queen.  Tamora is very willing to be queen.  Titus walks alone thus dishonored.  He passes by the prostitutes lining a street.  Titus walks to the catacombs and tells his brother and sons that the son he slew will not be buried here:  "Bury him where you can.  He comes not here."  His brother tells him this is impious of him. Titus should forgive his dead son Mutius and let him be buried with his brethren.  Titus says that they are his enemies now:  "so trouble me no more, but get you gone."

At the royal court, they are having a big party with a band playing American swing music.   The emperor and empress are together having a good time.  The empress goes outside to speak with her personal body guard Aaron the black Moor  It is obvious there is some deep connection between the black man and the white woman. The emperor misses her and starts looking for his empress.  He sees Lavinia and Bassianus trying to consoler her father.  He calls Bassianus a traitor and wants his revenge.  Tamora intervenes gently and asks that the past be forgiven.  She asks the emperor to forgive Titus.  She whispers to him that he has just gotten the throne and a hasty move against Titus might be seen as precipitous and unworthy of an emperor.  Tamora tells him:  "Yield at entreats, and let me alone.  I'll find a day to massacre them all and raze their faction and their family . . . "   So the emperor forgives Titus.  Now Tamora has the sons, uncle and daughter kneel before the emperor to ask his pardon.  Bassianus is the last to go to his knees.  Now Tamora tells the emperor that they must act as friends.  Saturnine, therefore, invites everyone to his party.  Tamora stares at Titus, but says nothing to him.

Aaron the Moor, the body guard of the empress, says he is tied to Tamora "fettered in amorous chains."  He tells himself:  "Then, Aaron, arm thy heart and fit thy thoughts to mount aloft with thy imperial mistress . . ."  He hears the two sons of Tamora, Chiron and Demetrius, arguing.  The younger son Demetrius says he's just as good and is of as much worth as his brother to woo Lavinia.  Chiron manhandles Demetrius, but when Chiron lets him go, Demetrius head butts him causing Chiron's nose to bleed.  Now each brother grabs a knife and they start to fight again.  Aaron intervenes by grabbing each brother by the arm and holding them still.  He scolds the boys for arguing so publicly and daring to pull out knives in the palace. Nevertheless, when he lets up on the boys, they go back to arguing and fighting.  Aaron separates them again and reproaches them once more.  The brothers gradually calm down.  Aaron points out that the ladies will be at today's hunt and Lavinia will be there among them.  He tells the sons:  "Single you thither then this dainty doe and strike her home by force, if not by words." 

Aaron plants some gold under a tree for a scheme to frame others.  An arrow is shot into the tree.  Aaron looks up and sees and hears Tamora laughing and smiling.  She wants to have sex with Aaron, but Aaron delays her for a short while.  Aaron has to stop the love play, because he sees that Bassianus and Lavinia have seen them.  Aaron leaves.  Bassianus and Lavinia ask Tamora what the hell she is doing out here in this isolated place with her "barbarous" Moor?  They mock her and her "raven colored love" and then start to leave.  But not before Bassianus tells Tamora that the king, his brother, will hear of this.  Tamora is really angry and says to herself:  "Why have I patience to endure all this."  Suddenly the horses are spooked by Chiron and run away.  Chiron runs to his mother to see what's wrong.  His mother tells her son that these two people enticed her out to this isolated place and said they are going to bind here and leave her to die a slow, miserable death.  They start circling the couple.  Now Demetrius joins in the circle, taunting Bassianus and Lavinia.  Tamora kisses her boys for saving her from execution.  She now demands vengeance.  Chiron stabs Bassianus in the back and Demetrius stabs him in the abdomen. 

Lavinia is, of course, very upset and she hurls an insult at Tamora.  The queen of the Goths takes a knife to stab her with it, but Chiron grabs her and holds her back.  The boys want to rape Lavinia first and then they will kill her, as Tamora instructs.  They cut off the buttons on the back of her dress and open the dress up.  Lavinia keeps pleading to Tamora to save her from this fate, but Tamora says she also pleaded to save her son, but to no avail.  Lavinia asks Tamora to be a charitable murderer and kill her now instead of letting her be raped and then killed.  The boys drag Lavinia away. 

Aaron leads the two sons of Titus through the forest to hunt the deer.  One of the brothers falls into a pit, as Aaron planned.  The other brother asks if he is hurt?  The fallen one wants his brother to help him out of the pit.  He also mentions that the dead body of Bassianus is here in the pit with him.  In trying to help the brother out of the pit the one above is pulled down below into the pit.  Now Aaron appears with the emperor to show him the pit.  The royal brothers tell the emperor that Bassianus is dead and with the Andronicus brothers in the pit.  At this time, Tamora shows up.  Saturnine tells her that his brother lies here dead.  Aaron shows up holding the money he says the murderous brothers were after.

Titus arrives accompanied by his grandson Lucius and the young man's uncle and the emperor screams at him that two of his sons killed his brother Bassianus.   Saturnine orders the Andronicus brothers be taken from the pit and locked in prison.  Titus asks the emperor to let him take his sons home and he will see to it that they come to the emperor whenever he desires.  The emperor shouts:  "Thou shalt not bail them!"  After the emperor leaves, Tamora tells Titus that she will speak to the emperor:  "Fear not thy sons.  They shall do well enough." 

Lavinia still lives.  The boys are down by the river with her taunting her over and over.  They have cut her tongue out and her hands off and attached  branches to the wrist stumps to serve jokingly as hands.  They leave Lavinia standing on a stump.  Her uncle finds her and is shocked at what he sees. 

Titus is being ignored by the citizenry.  He begs them to take pity on his sons.  He sees an angel playing a trumpet.  He also sees a sacrificial lamb and then the lamb has the head of one of his sons.  The one son who is not in prison, Lucius, tells his father that he is only crying out to the pavement stones.  No one can hear him.  Lucius tells his father that he has been banished from Rome for trying to rescue his two brothers.  Father says Lucius should be glad to be banished from this city of devourers. 

Uncle Marcus carries Lavinia to her father Titus, Lucius her brother and Lucius jr. her nephew.  Titus says that he shall cut off his hands too for his hands "have fought for Rome, and all in vain."  He tries to comfort his daughter with not much effect.  So he gathers the others around him and tells them:  "Let us that have our tongues plot some device of further misery to make us wondered at in times to come."

Aaron comes to the home of Titus as the three men return carrying Lavinia with them.  Aaron says that if Titus or his son Lucius would cut off one of their hands, the emperor will accept the hand as a sort of ransom for his two sons and the sons shall be sent home.  Titus wants Aaron to cut of one of his hands, but Lucius says let one of his hands be the sacrifice.  Uncle Marcus speaks up and says he will sacrifice his hand.  Titus tells them to go get an axe and they go.  Titus tells Aaron to come with him for he will deceive his son and brother.  The young boy from the future watches as in the kitchen Titus puts his hand on a carving table.  Aaron grabs a meat clever and cuts the left hand off.  Aaron puts the hand in a plastic bag and takes it to the emperor. 

The evil Aaron knows that only the heads of his two sons will be sent to Titus.  He revels in his evil. 

Titus prays to the heavens.  He is joined by his daughter.  Then Uncle Marcus and Lucius come in.  A carnival truck pulls up to the house.  A young red-headed girl  and her father, the clown, the one who brought the modern boy to Rome, take out some small tables.  They open the side of the vehicle and there are two jars with the heads of two sons with Titus's hand in between them.  The uncle seems the most upset and wants to know why does his brother not react to this terrible sight?  Titus starts laughing and then says:  "Why, I have not another tear to shed."   Titus now vows to take revenge.  They take the heads and hands.  Titus says goodbye to his banished son. Lucius says to his son that he shall go to the Goths and raise an army to take revenge on Rome and Saturnine. 

The modern boy goes to see a man who makes prosthetic hands.  He brings home two hands for Lavinia. At dinner, Lavinia will not eat or drink. 

Chiron plays video games in an arcade of sorts.  Aaron plays pool. Demetrius goes crazy listening and dancing to music.

Lavinia tries to tell her family what happened to her.  She has the boy help her turn the pages of a book until she comes to the tragic tale of Philomela, princess of Athens.  It deals with King Tereus of Thrace's  treason and his crime of rape.  Titus asks her if she, like Philomela, was ravished and wronged?  Uncle Marcus gives a staff to Lavinia to write the name(s) of the person(s) in the dirt road who are responsible for her tragedy.  She writes very quickly the two names:  Chiron and Demetrius.  Uncle Marcus has everyone kneel and swear with him that "we will prosecute by good advice, mortal revenge upon these traitorous Goths and see their blood or die with this reproach."  Titus tells the son of Lucius to come with him to his armory.  He has an idea for revenge. 

Lucius delivers the boy to the lair of the two animals.  Lucius jr. delivers many different weapons to the sons of the vicious Tamora.  Aaron figures out that old Titus knows that it was the two Goth fellows who hurt his daughter, but for now, he is going to keep it to himself.  The Goths say they will go to their mother and comfort her in her labor pains.  Aaron says:  "Pray to the devils.  The gods have given us over."  The nurse comes to the three men to say that the empress has delivered.  She also says that they are all undone.  Now she shows the black baby to Aaron and the brothers.  Tamora wants Aaron to kill the child.  The brothers tells Aaron that he has undone their mother.  The brothers and the nurse want the baby killed, but Aaron says it shall not die.  The boys try to kill the child, but Aaron grabs a weapon and prevents them from doing so. 

If Aaron is going to save the child, then the others want to know what they should all say when asked about the child.  Everyone sits.  Aaron asks who saw the child?  The nurse says it was she, the empress and the mid-wife.  Aaron now kills the nurse with a broken off cue stick driven into her abdomen.  He then tells the brothers to bury the nurse and then send the mid-wife to him, after which Aaron will go see the empress.

Titus gathers around him a group of his sons.  Chiron and Demetrius relax at an orgy being held by by the swimming pool.  Meanwhile, the empress is laying naked in bed with a naked Saturnine. 

Titus sends some of his sons out to get more men.  The others start firing arrows up into the sky and through the opening in the roof down into the swimming pool.  Arrows rain down on those at the orgy.  With the arrows are notes from Titus.  Saturnine sees one of the notes and rushes to scream at the tribunes.  The notes are prayers for justice addressed to the different gods of Rome.  Saturnine rages against Titus and his sons.  Tamora tries to calm Saturnine, but cannot.  More bad news arrives.  The Goths led by Lucius have come to Rome.  The crying emperor says to the empress:  "Ay, now begins our sorrows to approach."  He says that the people favor Lucius over him to be emperor.  Tamora tells Saturnine to cheer up.  She will speak sweet words to Titus and then help negotiate with Lucius.  This makes the emperor cheer up a little. 

Lucius is with his Goth troops.  He tells them he has received notice that the Romans are anxious to be rid of Saturnine and will welcome him (Lucius) and the Goths to Rome.  The Goth leader says that the Goths want to take revenge on Tamora.  Going over their maps, the leaders hear a baby crying.  Aaron has been caught along with his baby son.  Lucius tells everyone that Aaron is the man who robbed Andronicus of his left hand.  "This is the pearl that pleased your empress' eye.  And here (the baby) the base fruit of his burning lust."  Lucius gives the order to hang the child first so Aaron can watch.  Aaron offers to tell Lucius some insider information that will help him, if he only spare the child.  Lucius tells him to start talking and the child may be saved.  Aaron warns him that his talk may vex him and the men "for I must talk of murders, rapes and massacres, acts of black night, abominable deeds, complots of mischief, treason, villainies." 

Aaron tells everyone that he sired the child with the empress and it was her two sons who murdered Bassianus.  And the sons were the ones who raped the sister, cut her tongue out and cut off her two hands.  The evil man now laughs about it.  Lucius keeps hitting the evil one with his fists until he falls to the ground.  Aaron says he was the one who taught the queen's boys to commit such atrocious acts.  He goes on to say he led Lucius's two brothers into the pit.  He was also the one who hid the bag of gold beneath the tree to help frame the brothers in the pit.  For his crimes and hundreds more, Aaron is to be hanged.  He walks up onto the ladder himself, but from there he jumps down onto Lucius with the intent to harm him.  He is stopped by the soldiers.  Lucius tells his men to shut his mouth so he may not speak of any more dastardly crimes he has committed.  A soldier uses the butt of his rifle to knock out Aaron. 

A note comes for Lucius to come and negotiate, along with his father and uncle, with the emperor.  He says he will come. 

Titus is in his bath plotting his revenge.  He has a vision of a woman who is called Revenge.  She tells him to confer with her and her two minions,  murder and death.  But it's not revenge he sees, it's Tamora and her two idiot sons dressed in costumes.  As revenge, Tamora urges Titus to invite his son to dinner and she will invite the empress and her two sons, the emperor and all Titus's enemies.  Then Titus can have his revenge.   Titus agrees, but asks that rape and murder stay with him.  When Tamora leaves Titus has his sons capture the two sadistic son of Tamora. 

The two sons of Tamora are hung upside down.  Titus says he will slit their throats and Lavinia with her two stumps will collect the blood in a basin bowl.  He also tells the boys he will grind their bones to dust and use their heads to make two pastries. And Tamora will be feasting on the meat from her own two sons.  He cuts their throats. 

The emperor and empress come to the house of Titus. Along with them are the enemies of Titus.  Titus comes in dressed in a very white chef's uniform to serve the main dish.  While they are eating, Lavinia comes into the room and gradually goes over to her father.  Titus asks the emperor:  "Was it well done of Virginius to slay his daughter with his own right hand because she was enforced, stained and deflowered?"  The emperor says Virginius was right in doing so because "the girl should not survive her shame and by her presence still renew her sorrows."   So, Titus break Lavinia's neck.  Everyone is deeply shocked.  They want to know why would Titus kill his only daughter?  Titus tells them it was not he who killed her, but Chiron and Demetrius.  Saturnine gives the order to fetch the two wretches and bring them here.  Titus then virtually screams:  "Why, there they are, both baked in that pie whereof their mother daintily hath fed, eating the flesh that she herself hath bred."  Tamora and others start gagging.  Now Titus thrusts his knife into the neck of Tamora.  She dies.

The emperor runs on top of the table to grab Titus.  He then takes the candles off their skewers on the candelabra and thrusts them into the chest of Titus. Lucius grabs the emperor and pulls him down and across the full length of the dinner table to jam a huge spoon into the emperor's throat.  He then shoots the emperor with his pistol. 

Now the dinner table appears in the coliseum.  The still living dinner guests leave the table.  Lucius is named emperor.  Then Lucius has Aaron's child shown to the crowd.  Aaron is brought out with his arms tied to a long board.  His body is placed in a narrow hole dug for the occasion.  Then the hole is filled in with sand.  The evil man will be left there to die of thirst and starvation.  Lucius says, as for Tamora, there will be no funeral for her at all.  Her body will be thrown out to be eaten and torn apart by beasts and birds of prey. 

The boy from the future carries the little son of Aaron with him out of the Coliseum.

 

 

The Shakespeare tragedy is based on the mythological story of Procne and Philomela (found in book VI of the fifteen books in Ovid's Metamorphoses).  From the title of the filim, I thought the movie was going to be about the general and then Roman Emperor Titus.  Watching the film, however, I soon found out it is not.  There is a lot of killing and some rape in this film.  It was very popular in its day, but in Victorian times people complained that it was too violent.  I enjoyed the film, even with all the violence.  In many ways it reminds me of the cowboy movies with the common and popular theme of revenge. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

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