"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Macbeth: A Review

Now Playing: Magnets by Disclosure ft. Lorde (dancing past the point of no return, let go, we can free ourselves of all we've learned) 

Sometimes you watch a movie trailer and you are absolutely enthralled; your life depends on you seeing this goddamn mesmerising film.

I called up my favourite pasta-and-good-times buddy to lure her into this mission of mine, which turned out to be a genuine mission of finding where the hell was showing this film, which was allegedly released in Australia two weeks ago. It's a telling sign of everything I disdain about Perth that there was only one place showing it; an artsy fartsy, tiny rundown cinema buried in the nightclub district. The screen was not much bigger than a fancy modern flat screen, of which my parsimonious house manages to have two, and the cinema was a poky little room that seemed impossibly lacking in capacity until you realize that your only comrades are a few old people and a swarm of absurdly silly giggling bubble tea drinkers.

Macbeth is one of my favourite Shakespearean texts, although I must admit that upper high school and university seemed to be far more preoccupied with Hamlet and my professor's penchant for the historical plays, and so my sense of the plot was a little rusty. Despite this, the film seemed aimed at the bourgeois English academic type, and strikes a perfect balance between authenticity and loyalty to the text, whilst still managing to throw in the odd curveball to keep things exciting.

There is a logic to this rendition that is somewhat lacking in the original form of early modern theatre as bawdy mass entertainment with scant budgets and recycled props. Macbeth is reimagined by Fassbender as suffering from PTSD; a soldier struggling to live outside the battlefield binary of friend or foe. The implausible slaughter of Duncan is rendered in the most realistic way possible, with the subtle choreography of the many character's psyches dancing together in perfect unison. The Macbeth's passion for power and privilege is also reinforced by the great gap between Duncan and his beloved Thanes; Macbeth's castle is little more than a leaky church and a few tents in the middle of god knows where, which contrasts sharply with the grandeur and luxury of the palace they eventually inhabit. The woods coming up to Dunsinane is cleverly reimagined into a far more plausible battle strategy, and the film does not employ the black comedy of other early modern tragedies. And in the end a coda featuring Fleance provides the realistic implication that the bloody dynastic politics are far from over; which makes sense, given that Fleance, not Malcolm, is claimed as the legendary forefather for the Stuart dynasty.

Shakespearean texts can get a bit dude-centric, and the testosterone fueled, bloody plot of Macbeth is no exception - so it was interesting that the film chose to highlight the soldier's familial relationships, and the importance of wives and heirs to the patriarchal structure; which contextualizes the Macbeth's anguish, and the violence against Macduff's 'pretty chickens and their dam'. In this way, the women and children of the story are not just pawns, but things that the Macbeth's openly covet; Macbeth seems transfixed by Banquo's Fleance, and Lady Macduff is Lady Macbeth's foil in every way; Scottish, demure, and blatantly fecund. This fixation over women and children reaches a bloody head through the clever reinterpretation of the slaughter of the Macduffs, which will shake even the sort who can sing The Bard in two-part harmony. The re-imagining of Macbeth's bloody ascent to power as means to 'fill the void' left behind by their dead child also provides an interesting dynamic for the close relationship between Macbeth and his wife, which seemed incongruous in incarnations of Macbeth that cast her as the aggressive manipulator of a browbeaten husband - Macbeth and Lady Macbeth become a sort of Henry and Anne Boleyn thing, with the conspicuous absence of an heir hanging in the air like the Scottish frost. In the absence of comic relief, the focus on relationships instead heightens the drama to almost uncomfortable levels as people are hacked apart, burned alive, and go insane.

The highlight of the film is Marion Cotillard, who is a dynamic, enigmatic, and strangely sympathetic Lady Macbeth; her viciousness and ambition is contextualized by personal tragedy and her emotionally fraught position as an outsider. There is no excusing of her monstrosity in the film, but as you watch her wide, alien eyes grieve, and then light up with ambition, and then quietly fade away into nothingness, her story has a complexity and a sincerity that is hard to not empathize with. The representation of women in this film is nuanced and poignant and pulls away from the Madonna/whore dichotomy that the passive Lady Macduff and the bitchy Lady Macbeth used to represent; almost all of Lady Macduff's lines are cut, but she still manages to be a fascinating character in the way the camera lingers on her eyes, which shrewdly take in everything that happens in her soldier husband's world, and in her final, agonizing lines. This film manages to pull off the impossible feat of not only casting the most perfect Academy Award-winning and -nominated actors, but also the right child actors to pull at your heartstrings just at the right moment.

My only whinge - and it is a minor one - is the habit to zoom in on Macbeth and hold the camera there as he delivers line after line of flawless Shakespearean text. Which is all well and good, on stage, but this film is so focused on scenery and character that it drags a bit on the already dense and fairly slow-paced film. I understand that this was probably to give Macbeth more screen time, and that his endless soliloquys are essential to the plot for the three people who somehow manage to cling to every word between the rough Scottish accents and the even rougher wind, but the film manages to find more interesting ways for Lady Macbeth to spew her lines out ('Out, damned spot' is particularly good) so I think they really ought to have tried a bit harder with the titular character. That being said, the movie redeems itself of its endless zoomed in soliloquies with a pretty spectacular rendition of 'tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow'  

 This year's Cannes was dominated by Australians - Mad Max, and then Mad Mac; and the latter is well worth the headache of tracking down a theatre that is willing to screen this to this land of bogans.

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