Rome In The Roaring 20s: Julie Taymor’s ‘Titus’ Revisted
by Tito W. James
Julie Taymor’s Titus is a radical adaptation of the play, Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare. Taymor is most well known for adapting Disney’s Lion King for Broadway. The film stars Anthony Hopkins as Titus, a Roman general who returns victorious from war only to plant the seeds of future turmoil for himself and his family.
What immediately struck me about the film was the bizarre blend of multiple time periods and tones. The story takes place in an alternate reality that combines aspects of ancient Rome, 1920s New York, and a fascist dystopian future. Titus feels at home within the same aesthetic universe as Fellini’s Satyricon and Jodorowsy’s comics. Epic, tragic, and absurd, Titus defies traditional categorization.
I’m not surprised that I haven’t discovered the film until now. Shakespeare purists will probably balk at the inclusion of anachronistic elements. The Shakespearian nature of the film is probably too highbrow for most causal audiences. Additionally, this is one of Shakespeare’s darkest plays with moments more akin to I Spit On Your Grave than what we traditionally associate with classical literature.
However, longtime blog readers will know that I have a taste for dark surrealism. Julie Taymor’s Titus is an adaptation that elevates its subject matter. By existing in its own alternate reality, Titus feels more present now than if Taymor had done a traditional adaptation. It is the rare film that truly transports an audience to an original world and explores complex themes about the darkest aspects of humanity. For cinephiles who really want a challenging narrative with stupendous imagery and design, Titus is required viewing.