Shakespeare has been adapted for the screen so often that the purpose for doing so is often simply because it’s been a few years since someone has done so. The problem then is in trying to do something with the material that hasn’t been before. For director Justin Kurzel, that solution is to deposit some modern-day war allegory into the plot and fill the frame with lush cinematography. Is that enough of a purpose?
“Macbeth” tells the familiar tale of the title character (Michael Fassbender) who is prophesied by three witches to be king. Edged on by his wife (Marion Cotillard), Macbeth murders King Duncan (David Thewlis) and usurps the throne. As madness overtakes the pair, opposing forces push in around them.
The film focuses on the war aspect of Macbeth’s background, showing how the terrors of conflict can drive a man to do reprehensible acts. In addition, the film features the Macbeths burying their young child, adding further fuel to Lady’s declaration to cleanse her femininity. Does Macbeth having PTSD factor into an interpretation of Shakespeare’s play? Does Lady Macbeth’s lack of childbearing contribute to her vengeful disposition? The underlying currents of such notions are certainly present in the story. It’s an interesting take.
The star of the film is certainly the cinematography. Whether it is bright blues and whites, dark reds and oranges or lush greens and browns, the film is a lived in, ethereal canvas. It paints the environment as an active participant in the story, intensifying the power of nature and fate. But it’s also distracting. The visuals are so detailed and so refined that they pull the viewer out of the story because they can tell that what the director is really after is the image at the expense of story in a way. The over-stylization at times also speaks to being more of a show-off than a storyteller. The story of Macbeth’s power lies not so much in the screen as much as the words of Shakespeare, his ability to infuse each line of dialogue with nuance and sublimation. In that sense, this version of the story offers little that’s new.
So even though 2015’s “Macbeth” lacks purpose, it is still definitively Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The forlorn, despotic tale lives in the narrative and for those unfamiliar with the original work, it is not a bad introduction to the story.