Hamlet lives vicariously through the devices that he uses to capture or replay reality. However, those devices actually serve to separate Hamlet from the very world he is seeking to capture. This concept is dramatically displayed by Hamlet's use of headphones. Though headphones generally provide a listener with music or other entertainment, Almereyda's makes it clear that they also serve a secondary purpose: to shut out the external world. Therefore, although Hamlet appears connected all the time, Almereyda makes the point that Hamlet uses technology and technological devices to shut out the other characters in the movie.
While Hamlet's use of the headphones displays his overt attempts to block out society, they are not the only way that technology interferes in interpersonal relationships. In fact, Almereyda consistently has technology, whether the hum of a jet or the ringing of a phone, interrupt human interactions. These constant interruptions cause a variety of changes in the production. In Hamlet, as written by Shakespeare, Hamlet does not start out as the melancholy and morose individual that has become associated with the idea of Hamlet. Instead, there are many references to Hamlet's good nature. Therefore, Hamlet's descent into melancholy traditionally indicates a marked change from his normal outgoing nature. In contrast, Almereyda uses technology to show the isolation and disconnection from society that so many people of Hamlet's generation experience. There is no indication that Hamlet's personality has changed, or that there has been a sudden increase in technology at Elsinore Towers. Instead, Almereyda makes it clear that Hamlet has used technology as a means to distance himself from society. This distance has helped create his depression. In turn, the depression increases his need to disconnect himself from society.
Hamlet is not the only character affected by the overuse of technology. Ophelia is similarly transformed in Almereyda's production. Although Ophelia can be played in a variety of manners, from shrinking violet to early feminist prototype; there is no question that Ophelia is generally sociable. In contrast, Almereyda creates an Ophelia that is far more introverted than usual. The introduction of an introverted Ophelia dramatically alters the most important secondary storyline in the play.
For example, in the play, it is clear that both Hamlet and Ophelia are struggling with dysfunctional family relationships. Obviously, in the play, Hamlet is dealing with the death of a father and his mother's sudden marriage to his uncle. Furthermore, from the Ghost's appearances, the audience understands that King Hamlet was not an idol of a man; instead of heading to heaven, the Ghost is in purgatory until he can work off the sins of his lifetime. Furthermore, even though he knows that his own brother has murdered him, in the play King Hamlet is more concerned with punishing his straying wife than getting vengeance upon his murdering brother, leaving one to question the relationships between all of Hamlet's family members. However, much of those relationships are left to the audience's imagination or at least the audience's interpretation of Hamlet's asides, monologues, and soliloquies. In contrast, Almereyda's film is able to demonstrate what is going on in Hamlet's mind by showing him as a filmmaker. By showing how Hamlet chooses to represent the truth of his own personal reality, Almereyda is able to demonstrate just how dysfunctional Hamlet's family relationships are.
In addition, in the play Hamlet, Hamlet is portrayed as a young man that is excited about the idea of the players coming to Elsinore. Not only does he look forward to their approach, but he appears to enjoy his discussions with them. In fact, in the play, "the players, it seems, are the only human beings that Hamlet trusts, and the only one he considers worthy of respect" (Abbatte). However, the technology available in modern society has made interaction with the players unnecessary, which emphasizes Hamlet's loneliness and isolation.
Almereyda takes this concept a step further with his portrayal of Ophelia. In the play, Ophelia's character is somewhat ambiguous. Her responses to her father and brother give the impression of a young girl that is striving to be dutiful. However, Julia Stiles' portrayal of Ophelia comes across as anything but a dutiful daughter. Ophelia is a photographer and seems to attempt to lose herself in the images rather than deal with reality. Ophelia's escapism is highlighted by the fact that she is frequently looking into space or at pictures when speaking with her family. Therefore, dialogue that appears dutiful in most productions of Hamlet comes across as rote. Ophelia is extremely disconnected from her family and her isolation is highlighted by the fact that neither Polonius nor Laertes seem to realize how much Ophelia is trying to escape from being forced to interact with them.
Furthermore, Almereyda gives the audience an opportunity to view Ophelia's thoughts. When Polonius reveals Hamlet's letter to Claudius and Gertrude, the audience sees Ophelia visualizing herself committing suicide. In this way, Almereyda uses technology to give the audience overt information about Ophelia's state of mind. This signals a departure from the play, because Ophelia is not even present in that scene of the play (Hamlet II.iv). One of the reasons that this departure is so significant is that it robs the announcement of Ophelia's suicide of all suspense or drama. The audience is not only suspicious of Ophelia's suicidal tendencies, but is even aware of at least one of the methods that she might choose to kill herself.
By far the most interesting use of technology in Almereyda's film is the ubiquitous presence of recording technology. On the page, Shakespeare's Hamlet is part revenge tragedy and part spy story, as Hamlet devices increasingly more complicated schemes to entrap his uncle and deliver his punishment. The presence of these recording devices emphasizes the fact that Hamlet is a story about spies and spying. However, the presence of recording devices in almost every scene and every location raises a question that is not present in Shakespeare's Hamlet or in most productions of Hamlet; why was Claudius' betrayal of Hamlet's father not recorded. In most productions there is no reason to believe that the betrayal was witnessed by anyone; therefore, there is no reason to wonder why Hamlet does not engage in a traditional investigation into the Ghost's allegations against Claudius. However, by placing recording devices in almost every scene, Almereyda creates the idea that there may have been some extrinsic proof of the betrayal. This idea makes Hamlet's idea of a play-within-a-play even less substantial than it is in more traditional productions of Hamlet.
In addition, that recording devices are almost constantly present lend an additional asset to the Gertrude and Claudius back-story. Productions of Hamlet vary in how they choose to portray the romantic relationship between Gertrude and Claudius. The play itself is ambiguous; however, even at that time a marriage within four weeks of a husband's death was unusual. Some productions treat Gertrude like a confused spouse who remarries quickly to avoid dealing with the realities that came with Hamlet Sr.'s death, while others go to the opposite extreme and treat her like an adulterous wife who was an accomplice in her husband's death. No matter how the productions treat the relationship between Claudius and Gertrude, there is no reason for the audience to believe that Hamlet has a way to really discover when their relationship began. However, simply by making recording devices present in almost every scene, Almereyda creates something new; the idea that Hamlet has a duty to either investigate his suspicions about Gertrude or stop accusing his mother of wrongdoing. After all, where there is no way for Hamlet to prove his suspicions about Gertrude, it makes sense for Hamlet to question his mother's motives and excuses some of Hamlet's behavior towards Gertrude. The situation changes tremendously when there is a possibility that Hamlet could easily prove or disprove his suspicions about his mother.
Perhaps the reason that Hamlet does not strive to prove or disprove a romantic relationship between Claudius and Gertrude that predates the betrayal is to avoid having to avenge his father. According to McConnell, Hamlet is not morally obliged to seek revenge for his father; instead his need for vengeance is at the root of Hamlet's complexity (McConnell). One of the most interesting ideas in most productions of Hamlet is that as Hamlet's need for vengeance grows, he becomes less of himself. In fact, according to Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, "in his desire for revenge and for the throne, Hamlet is not all that different from the villainous Claudius and is forced to descend to his own level: lying, scheming, and murdering in order to accomplish his ends" (Fajardo-Acosta). Interestingly enough, this idea corresponds with Almereyda's decision to downplay any portrayal of Hamlet's madness, because it dismisses the possibility that Hamlet's madness is genuine and illustrates the idea that part of Hamlet's complexity is forced and unnecessary. Simply by investigating the beginning of Gertrude and Claudius' relationship, or even by having a conversation with Gertrude or…