Tag Archives: Percy Bysshe Shelley

Ozymandias

Offbeat yet pitch-perfect promo video for the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad: Bryan Cranston (as Walter White?) recites Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias.”

I  think I still prefer Vincent Price’s recitation, but Cranston’s version, set over images of the arid New Mexico landscape and certain emblematic objects, resonates with me as a fan of the show.

In her reading of the poem, Camille Paglia calls “Ozymandias” “Shelley’s most accessible poem, employing effects that are prophetically cinematic.” She writes:

Modern readers may find the clarity of conception and execution of “Ozymandias” especially compelling because Shelley’s technique resembles that of the motion picture camera. The poem begins in medium range with a chance encounter between two men, probably in Europe. Then the scene dissolves to a North African desert where the truncated legs of a statue, brutal and totemic, loom up at center screen. Now our gaze is drawn down to small details in close-up, such as the “wrinkled lip” of the fallen head and the pedestal’s ambiguous inscription. At the phrase “Look on my works,” we nearly feel the spectral king gesturing, as the camera obediently pulls back and up to make a 360-degree pan of the “boundless and bare” landscape.

Paglia’s comparison to cinema here, and her ultimate argument that the poem is about “nature’s total victory over culture,” help explain why “Ozymandias” is both fitting promo narration and an apt metaphor for what happens to Walter White and his empire over the course of the show.