Macbeth Justin Kurzel (UK 2015)

Macbeth Justin Kurzel (UK 2015)

Macbeth Justin
Kurzel (UK 2015) Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard

viewed: Empire Cinema Newcastle 6 Oct 2015; ticket: £3.75


I thought this offering of Macbeth by Kurzel was closer to Mad Max Fury Road than to Polanski’s or Wells’ versions of the bard’s Scottish play. That is to say the film was a very contemporary offering, a take on the tragedy in which the tensions and psychic contradictions of the text were of secondary order to the immersive quality of the experience.

This Macbeth owes more to contemporary forms, video game and the art installation, than it does to the textual theatrics of Shakespeare’s drama. As movie, the question is not the integrity of the production to its theatre provenance but whether the material can be structured and moulded to the new forms of distraction. The nature of the multiplex audiences inclines them to demand something in the presentation of material that meets their visual expectations, approximates to the nature of other kinds of media to which they are habitually exposed.

So this Macbeth doesn’t take us into meaning but into experience. And in this experience Shakespeare’s writing ceases to exist as series of psychic signs and symbols; it operates more simply as a pointer to the state of the game, the action and psychological states that are in play. The text is subsumed in the sound track and image. One key element of video gaming that is replicated is the continuous stream of sound, mostly percussion driven. In this Macbeth the music has a direct physiological quality, an elemental somatic effect on perception, bonding eye and ear to the affective material on screen: locating the viewer in-screen. The effects tracks likewise highlight the body: the foley effect of the sound of Duncan’s ribs cracking open as Macbath plunges his dagger into his heart.

The control element of game consuls cannot be duplicated with current technology, but the use of heavily edited big close ups is a partial simulation of the game idea, which together with the music, fuses the audience with the characters.

The two main characters in the kind of movie Kurzel is making, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, don’t work through identification in the classic movie association, rather they work as sort of avatars. They don’t actually represent us, but the experience is mediated through them. In relation to the idea of filming Shakespeare, this is advantageous. Olivier in his time on the back of post war elation could work Henry V, as an interpretation of nationalistic identification. But often Shakespeare translated on screen, with honourable exceptions such as Kurosawa’s Ran, hits the twin buffers of difficult language and characters with whom it is hard to identify. Medium shots, long shots lay bear the naked difficulty of Elizabethan language. Kurzel castes us right into Macbeth’s whiskers, into the follicles, overwhelming the meter of soliloquy and dialogue with the physicality of his being. Where there are medium shots often there is an overwhelming sense of body in play. Most obviously in the scene, mostly one long duration shot, where Lady Macbeth persuades her husband into betrayal and murder. But it is the subtext,to coin a phrase, that arrests the attention. As this key dialogue takes place, Lady Macbth explores its tantric possibilities, opening her legs and tilting towards her husband who fucks her as she corrupts him. The words slip away from the attention of the audience, as they do from Macbeth, who in the time honoured tradition, simply says “Yes dear!”

Landscapes are much abused in current cinematological use. Gratuitously often out played, durationally over long and often trying to suggest states of mind. Kernel uses them to effect here. The scape shots appear like a installation, a walk through experience which leads into a situation. The panoramic shots in Macbeth work with dramatic effect to set up the situation, so that in a film that is dominated by close shots, we can see where we are, we understand the location is a vastness.

If in form and style Macbeth pitches into a quasi world of game like experience, Kurzel understands that the three weird sisters cannot be part of this world. In renderings both theatric and filmic that I have seen of Macbeth, the witches come from an ‘other’ world. In this movie, the ‘other’ world, the larger than life game dimenrsion, is already occupied. Kurzel draws his ‘witch’ women from the realm of the ordinary. Their appearance and presence, (usually long or medium shot, is as simple cottars: in fact women come off the local Highland Council estate. What is important is that they stand in a separate location to the kingdom of Macbeth, that they occupy a different reality. This is their purpose, and with effect Kurzel has understood this. Adrin Neatrour

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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