March 18, 2016
Permit us this one final post on the thrill of living in the world of William Shakespeare. Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.
Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays. And yet, the dramatizations of it are often quite long. In order to make the character believable, the director must find a motivation for Macbeth’s downward spiral. The 2015 film, directed by Justin Kurzel, offers a refreshing view on one of Shakespeare’s classic figures. Filmed in Scotland, it also offers incredible scenery.
Kurzel’s version begins with the death of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s child. The unique and solemn beginning offers insight into the mindframe of Macbeth. Later (after Duncan’s murder), as Macbeth sits idly in his room, stirring dust with his dagger, Lady Macbeth asks him what he is doing. He replies that she should know only the necessary things, and not this newest deed in his mind. He goes so far as to point his dagger into the bodice of Lady Macbeth’s gown. Circling the dagger over her womb directs us back to the first scene and the funeral pyre. Losing a child is inexplicable and painful, but now Macbeth has lost an heir. Further, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are beginning to realize what they sacrificed when they grabbed at their one opportunity for something greater than themselves. With thoughts turned towards his legacy, Macbeth feels that Banquo, his good friend, is the newest threat. Skilled only in the art of defense, Macbeth clearly lacks (or has lost) reason necessary to deal with the intricate responsibilities that accompany leadership.
Kurzel’s film also surprises with the addition of a silent, young witch. She accompanies the other three and even touches Macbeth. This compelling image darkly aligns with the death of Macbeth’s own child. While she does not speak, she does appear at key parts of the film. In fact, she comes to rescue Banquo’s son, the distant heir to the throne (also part of the witches’ prophecy), from Macbeth’s hired murderers. Her innocence starkly contrasts the darkness of the deeds.
The witches are endlessly fascinating. Within them, they contain the idea of fate, control, happiness, and spirituality. I tend to think of the witches as devoid of emotion. Instead, they are fulfillment. They are purpose. They are fate. Shakespeare’s original text offers a sort of madness about them, which, to me, does not align with any consistent human emotion. They have incredible power, directing the thoughts (and therefore, the actions) of brave men, of entire kingdoms. If Macbeth had not been tempted to this place of power, it is unlikely that he would have fallen. On his own, he would not have committed this major, egregious mistake. In other words, did the witches realize a truth about Macbeth that would otherwise be indemonstrable?
This solitary meeting on the Scottish heath circled through Macbeth’s mind so much so that it controlled every future move. And as a result, Macbeth gains an understanding of virtue, but only after it has been entirely stripped from him. Did the witches intend to sacrifice one person in order to demonstrate virtue? It is difficult to define the phantoms’ roles, but Kurzel’s invention of the fourth witch was entirely new, surprising and thought-provoking.
Kurzel’s film also utilizes the Scottish landscape as a character. Winds blow as they light the funeral pyre for Macbeth’s child. The witches seem to rise out of the cold, hard ground, or roll in upon the fog. Its grueling chill and barren stretches overtake Macbeth’s victory march. And when Macbeth orders the death of Macduff’s family, the landscape seems to weep as does Lady Macbeth. And finally, Macbeth meets his end in the orange glow of battle, in an orange glow of rage and defeat. The landscape is mysterious and brutal. It is breathtaking.
At the end of the play, Macbeth fears being made a fool. After he learns of Lady Macbeth’s death, he fully realizes the horror of his mistake. He says: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more: it is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.” Macbeth refuses to leave his life completely devoid of valor. Therefore, compelled by fate, character or persistence, Macbeth says, “bear-like, I must fight the course.” This is Macbeth’s only path towards reclaiming virtue.
Kurzel’s film version adds a newness to a much loved, but much played story. The director’s eye along with the scenery and actors’ abilities allow for additional conversation of a complex play.
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