The need now is the same as it has been in the past to find a way to break the habit of violence. But as William Shakespeare reminds us in his play Titus Andronicus, these patterns go very deep. Especially when they are entwined with revenge.
Director Julie Taymor has adapted her 1995 stage production of Titus for the screen and invested it with a stylistic elan that covers everything from sets to costumes to production values. In the opening scenes, the revered Roman general Titus Andronicus (Anthony Hopkins) has returned home after a victory over the Goths. He plunges himself into a sea of troubles when he offers a ritual sacrifice of the eldest son of the Goth Queen Tamora (Jessica Lange). Through an amazing series of events the amoral new emperor Saturninus (Alan Cumming) makes her his wife. This position of power gives her the freedom to avenge her son's death.
Also at her beck and call is Aaron (Harry Lennix), a cold-blooded Moor who delights in creating chaos. He frames Titus's two sons for the murder of the emperor's brother and then orchestrates the rape of Titus's beloved daughter Lavinia (Laura Fraser) by Tamora's other sons, Chiron (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Demetrius (Matthew Rhys).
All of this plunges the old warrior into a frenzy of grief. In a moment of derangement, he wraps letters around arrows and shoots them into the heavens asking the gods to right the injustices that have befallen him. Receiving no answer, Titus concocts his own savage and macabre scheme of revenge against Tamora and her offspring.
Taymor has set the action for the drama in and around the Roman coliseum, a blood-drenched milieu where violence as entertainment had its inglorious debut. Titus starts and ends with a young boy who witnesses the tragedy that swirls around him. He signals a slim chance that someday love, rather than hate, may be the template for the affairs of humanity.