This is a film of theatre performance.
Theatre directed by Estelle Parsons, Al Pacino as Herod, Jessica Chastain as Salome.
In Wilde’s play the seduction between between Herod and Iokanaan can be seen as central to the narrative.
The film leaves unanswered:
- Why was the king so enamored with the prophet that he keeps Iokanaan imprisoned but still alive?
- Why is Salome’s order to murder Iokanaan so devastating to the king?
These dynamics are the focus of the king’s story and establish the consequences of everyone’s behaviour. They affect the king, the queen, and determine the daughter’s sharpest weapon to save herself from the trap she is in.
In Oscar Wilde’s play Salome is attracted to John/Iokanaan and wants him dead. The reason for such vehement attraction is not as clear as the insults that John bestows on women – both Salome and her mother, Herodias. However, given the Decadent fascination with death and sensuality, we can assume Salome associates the intensity of John’s misogyny with the intensity of morbid attraction.
The severity of Salome’s vengeance is not explored in this film. Motivations would include the lasciviousness of Herod toward the girl; and knowing that she can hurt him by asking him to kill the prophet that he values highly. Also protection of her own and her mother’s gender, which is constantly under attack from both men.
The play makes clear that Herod is fascinated by the mystical and political discussions of the men around him, and the power he wields by possessing the prophet, with whom so many are concerned. He is constantly trying to decipher the prophet’s riddles.
Al Pacino plays Herod as a trite, bumbling drunk. He is only marginally interested in Salome until the script’s lines force him to recon with her, and then his desperation feels more like a drunken tantrum than sincere distress.
This interpretation diminishes any believability in the life and death stakes.
Chastain’s Salome has a need to kiss the dead prophet that supersedes her need to hurt her step-father. This avoids male responsibility for the damage men do in disrespecting women so thoroughly. Salome is cast as impetuous and irrationally seductive.
It is impossible to believe that Herodias would not try to protect her ill daughter in the moment Herod orders that Salome be murdered. This film casts Herodias as a tired, irritable complainer. None of her motherly or womanly radar are engaged
This film fails to address the key relationships that Oscar Wilde made available, which holds men responsible for the violence they inflict – directly and indirectly. In doing so, the film presents another version of men (Al Pacino, who leads the play and directed the film) avoiding responsibility for their actions, and instead turns the spotlight on the devastating beauty of women who go mad with no apparent motivation. It creates a false foundation to mistrust women’s passion.