Since seeing Justin Kurzel’s MACBETH the other day, I’ve all these half-formed paragraphs and attempted poetic phrases turning in my mind in an effort to do it justice and properly sum up the experience. It was still and moody, and balletic and brutal in the depiction of war and bloodshed. There was theatrical cinematography with some of the shots and depictions of time and mental states, while keeping to a realistic rendering of the location, clothing and sets. The music too, with the mournful cello and off kilter tones, added a further appropriate layer.
It was worth watching, because the film let much of the visuals do the explaining. We see an introduction and a new take on the trees coming to the castle that was starkly gorgeous and minimalist. The film made it real and fake, beautiful and horrific. Shakespeare, and this version of the play, brought home all the PTSD and grief associated with death and violence in a modern way, even with the weird sisters. Michael Fassbender’s turns with Macbeth’s changing mental state pulled me in, as did Marion Cottillard main soliloquy.
Paddy Considine as Banquo was brotherly, grim, accusing and fatherly in turns. David Thewlis is probably the second most unlucky actor after Sean Bean. Is there a historical film he appears in where he survives?
The ending was sombre and relentless and cleverly hinted at a cycle of bloodshed that won’t end.
Speaking of cycles
If you’re told a thing will happen, is what you do to make it happen as result of being told? Or, would you have acted differently if you hadn’t known it would happen? Indeed, would it have happened had you not acted at all?
Theories of causality, of mind altering experiences, prophecies, grief and guilt, of world-weariness and of ambitious nation building and warmongering could be at the heart of any science fiction narrative. Could be a particularly ambitious episode of Doctor Who.
Shakespeare’s MACBETH does it all.
But why make this particular soldier King? He’s clearly not up to it, or if he was, suddenly believing he will be king, makes him unsuitable. With foreknowledge comes the drive to make things happen, but also a ‘mind full of scorpions’ that leaves his best friend dead as well as others. And with all that knowledge and the security it brings, it means nothing during a personal battle.
Sure, MacDuff brings 10,000 men along with the prince, but in the end it’s still just mano et mano (Shakespeare’s good but he couldn’t get that many extras onto the stage). MacDuff doesn’t win the battle so much as MacBeth yields to destiny, much as his wife’s big talk about casting conscience aside quickly and quietly unravels.
I keep wondering: what was the point?
Well might we ask that of any war and any ambition for power.