The Passenger

Date: 2006
Posted by: johnrobinhartel
Credits: Directed and photographed by John Robin Hartel, written by Trevor Emmett and Kyle Farrell, edited by John Robin Hartel and Kyle Farrell, produced by Kyle Farrell and Trevor Emmett, for the Filme Company
Cast: Camron Crooks (Ulysses), Trevor Emmett (Thersites), James Warmles (Paris), Brandon Smith (himself), Rich Ward (Troilus), Adi Beged-Dov (Cressida), Travis (Pandera), Kyle Farrell (Diomedes), Jamen Lee (Hector), Mike Johnson (Achilles), The Clerk (The Clerk)
Duration: 5.55

This is a truly odd interpretation of of Shakespeare’s oddest play. Set among American small town slacker youth, it start with two young men in a car, one silent, the other smoking heavily while complaining of the damage cigarette smoke can do to children. They stop outside a store where two more young men are standing. The man smoking gets out of the car and berates the two for smoking themselves (“babykillers”). A young man and woman come out of the store as he goes in. The couple speak lovingly to each other, then she leave him to get in a car, where a young man takes some money from her. Another man joins them in the car, and she pats him on the leg, while the man she has left looks on ruefully. Elsewhere a man is trying to read a map, and another one offers to help him. The latter then talks to one of the men standing outside the store, whom he criticises for upsetting their mother. A thief runs out of the store and the man who helped the map-reader gives chase. He stops the thief and berates him, only to be struck down by the thief when he turns his back.

What has all this to do with Troilus and Cressida? The filmmaker has this to say on the YouTube comments:

Trevor explained the plot of the play to me, then we worked out a script in about an hour. When he handed it in though (it was a final for his Shakespeare class, I believe) everyone in the class was quickly pointing out which characters in the film represented which characters in the play, so it worked for its purpose.

Since there is no way anyone (outside of that English class, perhaps) would recognise this drama as being derived from Shakespeare’s play without prompting, our only clues are the cast list, which we are informed shows the players in order of appearance. So, the two men in the car are Ulysses and Thersites, with Ulysses the one with the smoking obsession. The two outside the store are Paris (in a green shirt) and the unquestionably unShakespearean Brandon Smith. The couple who come out of the store are Troilus and Cressida. The man in the car is Pandera (i.e. Pandarus), and they are joined in the car by Diomedes. The map reader is probably unidentified, as it must be Hector who helps him and Achilles whom Hector chases and who then turns on him at the end. Obvious, really.

Is it any good? That depends on what you are looking for. Viewed without prior knowledge of intentions, it’s a rough, puzzling short film that doesn’t go anywhere. But the puzzle’s the thing. It’s being able – or not being able – to see Shakespeare’s own odd work encoded in the film’s off-hand conceit that challenges the viewer and makes us look again. So, is Thersites the passenger?

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