By Justine Hong, Co-Editor-in-chief
The film opens as Macbeth (Fassbender) and his wife (Cotillard) mourn the death of their baby child. Three witches relate a prophecy to Macbeth, saying he will be crowned Scotland’s king. Macbeth and his wife plot to kill King Duncan (Thewlis) to fulfill the prophecy. Upon ascending the throne, however, Macbeth is tortured by guilt and paranoia. His consequent actions form a downward spiral of blood, cruelty, and fear. A timeless tale of relentless greed, Macbeth is an unforgettable Shakespearean masterpiece that Kurzel has successfully translated to the movie screen.
Kurzel’s interpretation is a visceral experience. The director manages to bring Macbeth, a work of elevated and complex prose, close and almost palpable to the audience. This is achieved mainly through cinematography. The scenery is impressive and enormous. The sky is filled with streaks of red and the land is barren, physically chilling the audience. Brutal battles are in slow motion, chunks of dirt fly, and blood spurts. As a viewer, I could feel the war in my bones.
Also, the soundtrack by Jed Kurzel, the director’s brother, was haunting and rustic, aptly complementing the film and enhancing its visceral nature.
Another attractive aspect of this film is also a surprising one. The most famous lines are spoken in intimate scenes. Lady Macbeth’s “Out, damned spot” is said softly in an empty cathedral in the early morning. Macbeth’s monologue on “sound and fury” is given with neither. The actors provide more fresh interpretations in other scenes of the text. Unlike other actors who’ve undertaken his role, Fassbender utters “Had I but died an hour before this chance, I had lived a blessed time” contemptuously to Duncan’s son Malcolm (Reynor), as if challenging him to fight or flight.
As for the actors, they are magnificent. Fassbender, while arguably less competent in conveying his character’s vulnerability, is virile and charismatic. Having undertaken other psychologically disturbed roles in movies such as Shame and 12 Years a Slave, Macbeth is right up his alley. Cotillard’s performance is also appropriately haunting. The deep grief for her child, while mostly concealed behind her ruthless ambition, is subtly and wonderfully conveyed at the right moments.
In short, I left the theater very satisfied. The only flaw of the film would be its extreme, unending heaviness, though this type of mood is appropriate for the text. The movie left a metallic taste in my mouth, though perhaps that was exactly what Kurzel intended. A Shakespeare aficionado myself, I’m very pleased with this novel rendition of the timeless classic. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a dramatic tale of love and ambition.