Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Movie Notes: "Macbeth", with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard

So, I recently watched "Macbeth", with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. The DVD was still sitting on our sideboard when a friend stopped by, and he asked how we liked it.

That gave me the chance to talk this review before I wrote it--a rare treat!

And the review I have is mostly positive. This version of "Macbeth" was, quite properly, disturbing and bloody and beautiful. It starts with burial rituals for a dead baby, and never gets more cheerful.

But then, that's this play, isn't it? "Macbeth" is the story of what happens when your protagonist says yes to temptation, rather than resisting.

Yet the fall from grace that the play depicts wouldn't be so fascinating if there weren't some real grace there to begin with. And in this movie, it's clear that the goodness that allows Macbeth's fall to be so heartbreakingly grandiose is twofold: the marriage of his physical courage and the strong relationship he has with his wife.

Even at the very beginning, at the burial of the baby, Macbeth and his wife turn towards each other in their grief, and not away (it's hinted that the baby is their own).

We go straight from that to Macbeth's encounter with the witches and, of course, things begin to get weird.

Any production of "Macbeth" has to deal with the supernatural elements, and this production doesn't shy away from them.

Moreover, any production of one of Shakespeare's plays is often most interesting in how it interprets the bare bones of the script--in the little grace notes each good production sprinkles around its particular version.

When you have such well-known stories, it's irresistibly fun to play with the interpretation.

But, at the same time, if you get too carried away with the creativity of your interpretation, you run the risk of losing what makes the story a classic in the first place: the strong plot, beautiful words, compelling characters, unforgettable themes, etc.

I'm happy to say that this production got the heart of the play and had fun adding their own little grace notes around the edges. Here were a few of the unique things I noticed about this version (spoilers, y'know):

-When Banquo's son is fleeing from Macbeth's assassins, one of the witches quietly appears and just as quietly hides the desperate child.
-Lady Macbeth's most horrifying speeches--where she begs the evil spirits to make her capable of doing the terrible deeds she wants to do--take place in a Christian chapel. It's a very awful contrast.
-She also is there in that chapel, presumably praying to the same demons, while her husband is off murdering Duncan. We flash back and forth between the two, and it's very effective.
-The "bloody child" Macbeth sees is a boy who dies in the first battle we see--and he appears as a vision later, holding the "dagger which I see before me" just before Macbeth performs his first crime.
-And, finally, they change the way the wood "comes to Dunsinane". Despite the spoiler warning above, I'm not going to spoil that part except to say: it would not work in a stage play, but it's really visually stunning, and it worked REALLY WELL in the movie.

I think this play works best when you, the viewer, spend most of it at the edge of your seat, begging the characters to STOP NOW, DON'T DO IT, NOOOOO..... and I really did in this case. When Banquo points out that Macbeth shouldn't listen to the witches, that the devils often tell you something true only to tempt you to something evil...augh! He was so convincing, and I was sitting there, thinking, LISTEN TO YOUR FRIEND, MACBETH, DON'T DO IT, NOOOO....

Last few smaller notes:
-I wish they'd kept more of the original script. True, I almost always wish this (NOT LOOKING AT YOU, KEN BRANAGH AND YOUR CRAZY-LONG HAMLET PRODUCTION), but there really were parts I missed, like Lady Macbeth's wistful observation that she couldn't quite kill Duncan herself, because he reminded her too much of her father...
-Macbeth goes very nicely crazy when he sees Banquo's ghost. It's great.
-The witches are evil. I appreciate this. So is Macbeth by the end. I appreciate this, too. Nice that they didn't try to wiggle out of that.
-Lady Macbeth is clearly terrified by the end. She called on demons, and the demons came. (Shades of "The Last Battle" and Tash!)
-Macduff's reaction to hearing the terrible news about his family actually made me tear up. It was well-done and (I keep saying this) pretty horrible.
-Content warnings: This is violent. The battles reminded me of "Braveheart", for a point of comparison. Also, child characters are menaced and harmed, which is very disturbing. (Though they do mostly cut away from showing actual violence to the children, which I appreciated.) There isn't any nudity that I can recall, but there's definite sexual behavior between Macbeth and his wife and it's (shockingly) kinda disturbing. So: not for kids, but a really worthwhile production of the Scottish play. Recommended.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

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Shannon Dodson said...

Ohhhh, parts of this make me want to see it and parts don't! The violence is always my struggle with this play.

Jessica Snell said...
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