All Hail the King
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
“All Hail Macbeth, Who Shall Be King.”
William Shakespeare’s most damningly dark play, Macbeth, is amongst the playwright’s most famed. The infamous tale of the Thane of Glamis rising to the Scottish throne only to descend into the most untoward of madness has resonated throughout time. The universality of the play’s appeal has given birth to numerous adaptations and iterations in various time frames, with the previous iteration of the play arriving via the BBC in a Stalinist-inspired modern setting (with Patrick Stewart helming the titular role). Unlike some of Shakespeare’s other works, Macbeth has nevertheless not had a major film production since Roman Polanski’s controversial 1971 version. Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of Macbeth is far more faithful to the original source material compared to Polanski’s version, but it is never faithful to a fault, keeping the heart and soul (or lack thereof) of the bard’s original text without sacrificing visual, cinematic flair to do so. While Akiro Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood may be the most successful adaptation of Macbeth in spite of its creative liberties to fit into the film’s feudal Japanese setting, Kurzel’s Macbeth is a close second. The atmosphere is harsh and beautiful, drenched in Adam Arkapaw’s breathtaking cinematography. Jed Kurzel’s drumming score haunts the entirety of the frame, adding a substantial amount of foreboding to already morose proceedings. As the foreboding drums louder and louder, the tension builds masterfully until Macbeth bears the consequences to his heinous actions.
The film opens with a morbid yet eerily enchanting sequence where Lord and Lady Macbeth are presiding over the funeral of their young child. The grief that emanated from their visages is powerfully ecocide in the background score, morose strings echoing throughout the Scottish Highlands. That emptiness of an heir is a key driver for Lord and Lady Macbeth, the underlying realization that without an heir, their powers is meaningless firmly entrenched in their minds and more often than not in the daggers held within their hands. The script subtly ties that emptiness they feel to their lives in several ways, the most opportune of which suggests that the pursuit of power is a way for that vacuum to be filled. It’s that same longing that causes Macbeth to not kill Malcolm when he enters his father’s tent and sees his right-hand lieutenant in possession of bloody daggers and King Duncan’s stab-riddled body. It’s the same sense of emotional want that causes him to see a young man, an elder child almost, slain in the field of battle, appear to him again and again in the most ephemeral of existences. A key part of the witches’s prophecy that serves as the fulcrum to Macbeth’s simmering fire is that Banquo’s sons would become kings after Macbeth and that fear, that madness of having his line be diminished while he was on the throne drives him to kill the man who had supported him the most and his son while he was it. Yet that isn’t the most depraved act Macbeth commits over the course of these two hours.
Marion Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth is the most intriguing adaptation from the original work, her character garnering more shadings of complexity than the play itself had allowed her. Macbeth’s note of the witches’s prophecy appearing to him after the opening battle and him garnering the Thaneship of Cawdor as they had predicted excited Lady Macbeth and that urge garners a prescient opportunity when King Duncan stays with them overnight. She appeals to his sense of manhood at several occasions, propping him upwards when it appears that Macbeth simply didn’t have the iron will of moral depravity to go through with what she was urging. Yet that triumph only lasts momentarily. The most intriguing thing about this iteration of Lady Macbeth, outside of Cotillard’s incredible performance, is her sense of morality, as limited and inopportune as it may be. Her anger, her fury, her ambition all has a limit and there was a particular moment when she realized what she had truly created. The sexist adage is that woman are the emotionally unstable ones (often tied to the menstrual cycle), which is complete buffoonery. Here it is Macbeth himself who is emotionally so compromised that he cannot get through a single banquet without seeing the ghosts of his murdered victims. For Queen Macbeth, the darkened deeds were done and it was time to construct an edifice upon that foundation, not destroy it. Then Lord Macduff runs to England to join the resistance against King Macbeth and Macbeth reaches the lowest point of his existence. He sends what is effectively an assassination team and ends the endeavor with personally burning Lady Macduff and all three of her children at the stake.
Macbeth is at its heart a tale about a man falling into his ambitions and being devoured by them and Michael Fassbender is phenomenal at conveying that quick ascent and descent in equal measure. That pain in his eyes at the beginning as he’s lighting his child’s funeral pyre being so unsettlingly transformed into a deadness inside when he’s lighting the Macduff’s pyre was sold instantly by Fassbender’s tremendous portrayal of a man whose insides have been turned into ashes. The contrast with the horror on Queen Macbeth’s visage as the flames curl up into the darkened sky couldn’t have been more telling. There is nothing wrong with ambition in its understood sense, but like everything else, it has a limit. There is little wrong with wanting to ascend higher in your life, especially if you are in dire straits and wish to see some sort of ascendancy in your existence. But Macbeth was already the Thane of Glamis and the Thane of Cawdor. Sure, his children wouldn’t be Kings and Queens right off the bat, but then so what? That privilege, that ascension simply for the empty sake of it lost him everything that he had. And when he donned his armor for the final time, to face the army of the son whose father he had so brutally slaughtered for the sake of a crown, the bright burning hue of the forest fire began to slowly subdue itself into a darkness of red. The final shots of Macbeth may not center on its titular protagonist, but its ending speaks volumes about the narrative’s understanding of where his actions lie. Malcolm takes his sword and walks firmly out of the castle as a king as Banquo’s young son grasps a scarlet sword and walked off into the blood-red mist to the beat of drums. The swords are never dry, the thirst is never quenched, and the cycle of violence never ends.
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: Justin Kurzel
Produced by: Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Laura Hastings-Smith
Screenplay by: Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, Todd Louiso
Based on: Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, Jack Reynor, Elizabeth Debicki, David Thewlis
Music by: Jed Kurzel
Cinematography: Adam Arkapaw
Edited by: Chris Dickens
Production Company: Anton Capital Entertainment, Creative Scotland, DMC Film, Film4, See-Saw Films
Distributed by: StudioCanal (UK), The Weinstein Company (US)
Running Time: 113 minutes
Release Dates: 2 October 2015 (United Kingdom), 4 December 2015 (United States)
Image Courtesy: Pi Media Online