The first thing we see is fire. The landscape = A furious, burnt Scotland.
A battlefield lost to flame, the characters are but silhouettes; this is Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth. Officially released on October 2nd and premiered at The Cannes Film Festival last May. In the wake of household names – Orson Welles and Roman Polanski – Kurzel has created a world where poetry takes centre stage and violence, a back-seat.
The slow-mo visuals of the run towards battle are so rhythmic that the ensuing fights seems more tasteful and lyrical than expected. This adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most gothic plays delves into the emotional state of Macbeth with surprising vigour, opening with a scene only hinted at in the play: the loss of his and Lady Macbeth’s child. The fact that this small but important detail is played out, hints that the movie will contain symbolism that will quench any Literature enthusiasts thirst. This allows the film to provide a realistic depiction of Macbeth’s descent into insanity, as well as the implications of being traumatised from battle. The pace of the film is incredible, the visuals insane – at one point, the battlefield is almost still, the fighters dancing through the air, and the rawest of Macbeth’s pain is shown. This interpretation considers his mental state. The hallucinations of the witches also make this more about pathology and less about superstition.
The famous banquet scene is perfectly tense, with Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth, tightly controlled and propping up Macbeth’s outbursts. In fact, the character of Lady Macbeth is offered more humility than usual, which makes for fascinating cinema. Cotillard’s expression of deep pain and sorrow, flickering in the light of the flames, makes the scene where Macbeth burns Macduff’s family alive far less about thoughtless murder and far more about the deterioration of mental health. Any fan of Shakespeare’s plays will weigh in on the interpretations, even if they don’t personally agree with the portrayals.
There are some unforgettable shots in the film. Noir-like mid-shots of Banquo in the dawn of realisation; a suspenseful chase through the woods as Macduff’s family are caught; fire constantly foreshadowed throughout, signifying what, exactly? The raw and untamed? The passion of Lady Macbeth? The eventual demise of Macbeth in the final scene, the inevitability of how the community catches onto his evil (or insanity) like wildfire? The play allows us to interpret the many symbols given to us but the opportunity to show this symbolism in a visual and cinematic way makes for an aesthetically pleasing film and an interesting adaptation. Regardless of whether you are an English Literature fan or a Film student, you’ll definitely have something to say about Kurzel’s wonderful interpretation of Macbeth.