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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Macbeth (2015)

The most famous witches in all of classic literature are the Weird Sisters of Macbeth, who famously begin the play by saying,

"When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

And so they do in Justin Kurzel's adaptation of the play, released last year and starring Michael Fassbender as the Thane of Glamis, later the Thane of Cawdor, and finally King of Scotland, and Marion Cotillard as his devoted wife. The witchcraft element of the play is probably what led to it being thought of as cursed; no self-respecting theatrical professional will ever say it out loud--it is always called "The Scottish Play."

Scholars have always considered Macbeth to e a play about the mad pursuit of power, or that behind every great man, there's a woman, only this time stood on it head. For those who don't know, Macbeth is in the service of King Duncan, and puts down a rebellion. Duncan rewards him by promoting him to Thane of Cawdor (after the traitorous old thane is executed). Macbeth had received a prophecy by the sisters that he would be both Thane and King someday, while his buddy Banquo would one day sire a line of kings. 

Duncan visits Macbeth's home and the Macbeth's decide they will kill him. The king's heir, Malcolm, hies it hence. No one suspects Macbeth at first, but it's a little convenient that he kills the two guards before they can be questioned. Macbeth visits the witches again and they say that he will never be beaten until the Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane (the castle) and he cannot be defeated by any man born of woman. This gets him a little cocky and he starts killing people, including Banquo, who visits a banquet as a ghost. Then, in one of the more horrifying scenes in all of Shakespeare, he has Macduff's, who is loyal to Malcolm, wife and children slain. To make it even worse, Shakespeare writes the scene in which Macduff is told of this. "What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
At one fell swoop?" he cries.

Of course, this being a tragedy, Macbeth and his scheming wife will get theirs. The witches were dabbling in word play, as Macduff was born by Cesarean, so not really by woman born. When Macbeth finds this out you can almost hear him saying, "Stupid witches."

After Hamlet, Macbeth is probably Shakespeare's greatest tragedy, and certainly his darkest. Kurzel, trying to make things interesting, endeavors to make the Macbeths somewhat sympathetic--the opening image is of their child's funeral, which is not in the text. Lady Macbeth says later,

"I have given suck, and know
How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this."

She says this to make Macbeth feel less than a man for hesitating in killing the king, but Kurzel incorporates this into her "Out, damn spot" speech by having her speak it in a church to a hallucination of her dead child.

As for Macbeth, we are led to believe this is all PTSD. Kurzel shows the battle in which Macbeth beats the traitor, and it looks like what a tenth-century battle might look like. So basically Macbeth is like the vet that comes home and shoots up a convenience store or something, instead it's killing his way up the line to the throne.

I don't mind the interpretation, even if I don't agree with it. To accomplish this, besides Lady Macbeth soliloquy, Macbeth delivers the play's most famous speech, the one that begins "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow," while standing over his wife's dead body, and then picking it up and holding it. Usually she dies off stage and he is told of it by a messenger. This is a poignant touch, though I don't buy that they're sympathetic.

Kurzel sets the play when it was set, a relief, and with mostly Scottish actors, despite the very French Cotillard, who is excellent (and sexy--a good Lady Macbeth should be sexy, because she holds this over her husband). Fassbender is also very good. It's a tough part to play. I haven't seen too many stage versions--just one professional, I think, with Raul Julia, and it was so unmemorable I had to look it up to remember. There have been many film versions, the one I'd like to see is Orson Welles. Laurence Olivier tired to get it made and couldn't.

There are a few things left out. The sisters other famous line, "Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble," is cut, along with that whole "eye of newt" scene. But eerily, Kurzel adds a silent child witch, making them a foursome. He also cuts the porter scene, famous for being the only comedy in the play, occurring right after Macbeth kills Duncan. It is supposed that Shakespeare added it to give the audience a break--the film does no such thing.


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