By Robert Andrews.
Silence more often than not tells us things that a thousand words could not express. And silence was what lingered long after the credits for Macbeth began to roll. You could feel a genuine sense of awe that had crept into those audience members who sat utterly still as they came to grips with the spectacle they had just witnessed. Certainly Macbeth is a challenging film, especially to audiences usually associated with more mainstream affairs, however this is a challenge that should be embraced by audiences both young and old. In doing so audiences will be rewarded with an unforgettable cinematic experience, one that that embodies not only a stand out lead performance from Michael Fassbender, but a rich and beautifully tormenting portrayal of Shakespearian Scotland, which lends itself so well to the dark road Macbeth finds himself travelling down throughout the course of the story.
As a manifestation of art house style, Macbeth tackles Shakespeare’s play with a dark and colourful undertone, in which the setting of Scotland contributes as much to the character’s feelings and intentions as dialogue could manage, and it is the dialogue that poses the greatest challenge to the average cinema goer. As I sat down to watch Macbeth and listened as Fassbender first began to delve into blank verse, I too was immediately challenged with an unfamiliar form of speaking, and a barrier preventing myself from accessing the primary channel that communicates the character’s core feelings, interactions and thought processes. Based upon this, should Macbeth have disregarded Shakespeare’s blank verse so that the audience could more easily understand the narrative events and character development? Absolutely not. By losing the blank verse you lose the authenticity of the piece as a Shakespearian product, and more importantly the beautifully tongue twisting monologues and analogies that are an art piece in their own right. An art piece that Fassbender so elegantly paints with his dedication to the role, as his descent into a guilt ridden lunatic ruler is nothing less than glorious. His richly spoken portrayal of the mad King of Scotland is arguably one of his best performances to date in both the physical and verbal sense. Fassbender’s mentally tormenting monologues fall perfectly in line with his savagery as a fighter on the battlefield and as a ruler on the throne. One criticism however, not of Fassbender’s performance, but rather the character on the page is that Macbeth as a character rarely breaks free from his mad slumber and as a result offers little potential for change, and to some extent enhances a sense of predictability in regard to the story’s outcome. That is not to say that Fassbender’s prolonged mad slumber is not enjoyable, as in fact it is breath-taking to behold, it is just a matter of some more detail being paid to the man beneath Macbeth’s warped mind set in order to make this enjoyable character study more complex and multi-dimensional.
As an adaptation, the burden of loyalty to the original story and its characters usually weighs heavily on a piece like Macbeth, which attempts to breathe new life into the stage play. As someone who is not familiar with the story of Macbeth, I myself was free from this burden, able to judge the narrative for its merits and criticisms without being a slave to my preceding thoughts of the original stage play. The narrative is executed well enough, with enough alternative view points in the story to provide viewers with a variety of differing perspectives focused on Macbeth’s downfall. The narrative doesn’t necessarily lead us into totally unexpected avenues of Macbeth’s journey, but it does however present a compelling character study of a mad King intertwined with the mounting consequences of the manner of his chaotic reign. Following Duncan’s death, Macbeth’s chaos really does reign supreme and poses the same issue that arises as a result of Macbeth’s lack of potential for change. Macbeth’s uninterrupted downhill spiral offers few respites in terms of attempting to convince the audience that Macbeth may not be heading towards the doomed conclusion that we the audience associate the character with. Never the less the narrative does hold up on a basic level and if nothing less leads us towards a truly breath-taking and sensational narrative climax that sums up the raw ambition of the film.
It would be criminal to end this review without applauding the contributions of the usually overlooked elements of film production that on a visual and audial level are equally responsible for the film’s success. Melancholia is what Macbeth orders, and its soundtrack certainly accounts for that with melodies and instrumentals which are so in tune with the foreboding nature of the story and the burdened mind set of Macbeth himself. Make up and costume, from Macbeth’s royal robes to his rugged battle armour contribute immensely to the level of authenticity held up in the film’s spoken blank verse. Words which are spoken so elegantly by the characters and captured so well by those responsible for the film’s cinematography and editing. The framing and movement of feasts, battles, isolation and sorrow communicate so much to the audience that they might have missed in the challenging blank verse that is often spoken. Macbeth’s moments of isolation are captured in a manner which voids the necessity of dialogue and as the battle scenes too are shown in such a raw and unpleasant form, every frame in Macbeth truly is a painting and least of all a work of art.
As aforementioned Macbeth poses the average filmgoer a challenging viewing experience in regard to the conventional mainstream characteristics that the film disregards. However I feel that even those unable to enjoy Macbeth due to the viewing challenges it poses have a duty to respect it for its bold, individualist and raw approach to an already fascinating story of guilt, madness and emotional decline. Films like Macbeth are rarely this accessible to mainstream filmgoers due to the film industry’s increasing demand for excessive box office returns. For that reason Macbeth really should be appreciated for its visually gripping and tonally fascinating adaptation, an adaptation that will certainly remain long in the memory of those who appreciate its raw cinematic power. All hail Macbeth.
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