By Dana Alexander ‘22
“Shakespeare’s plays are boring and aren’t relevant in a modern setting,” said Matt Durkin, a friend who attends St. Rita.
This is a thought countless people have had when digesting the vast works of William Shakespeare. However, “The Tragedy of MacBeth” not only disproves this misconception about Shakespeare plays, but transforms into something that is utterly wicked and mesmerizing.
This film is without a doubt an important landmark in Joel Coen’s career. This is the first film he has solo directed in 14 years. He’d previously co-directed his last projects with his brother Ethan. Going into this film, Coen had the onerous task of not only expertly adapting MacBeth, but rediscovering his own singular style.
Needless to say, he exceeded every expectation placed in front of him.
On Jan. 15, I assembled some companions for a screening of the film at my home. Once the lights dimmed and the film’s opening narration began to play, it was as if the joy and life in the room had been abruptly snatched away.
The opening credits of the crows flying overhead immediately put a pit in my stomach. It felt like a metaphor for our own looming mortality. From this point on, we were catapulted into the grim and peculiar world Shakespeare constructed centuries ago.
The mise en scene of the film opted for a hollow design, using the eerie nature to further strip the audience of any feeling of comfort. The choice to shoot the film on a soundstage was a remarkable decision. It makes the entire picture feel like sitting in the front row at an experimental theatre production.
The cinematography felt like a love letter to the likes of Ingmar Bergman and Jean-Luc Godard. The 4:3 aspect ratio is just a compelling way to visually tell a story. It allows for the perfect amount of exposure to setting and character.
Modernized adaptations of Shakespeare plays are nothing new to Hollywood. Yet with Coen’s adaptation, everything feels rightly condensed. The tight nature of the translation from text to script leaves room for the peculiarities and wretched nature of the picture to take form.
“I love this movie not only for its unexpected twists and turns, but for the way it details the descent of the human mind,” said Danny Hartz ‘22. Descent of the human mind is something that was poignantly articulated visually through Coen’s direction.
Each shot was done to extend the palpable insanity each character was starting to succumb to. The still shots were such a bold choice to document this maddening dissent. An amateur director would have chosen to do contrived close-ups and frequent cutting back and forth between shots.
However, Coen chooses to treat his film almost like a canvas painting found only in the heart of the Art Institute. “Joel Coen delivers a breathtaking adaptation of Shakespeare in his solo directorial effort,” said Pat Swanson, another friend and senior at St. Rita.
One cannot speak praise of this film without putting every actor on the highest pedestal. Ralph Ineson with the little screen time he has proved why he’s one of the best thespians to cast for a period piece.
Kathryn Hunter’s portrayal of The Witches was unnerving, chilling even the warmest soul to the core. Brendan Gleeson’s line delivery as King Duncan was smoother than a freshly waxed marble floor.
Finally, the titular characters of this production. Denzel Washington was nothing short of masterful. Washington does not treat Shakespearean text as a foreign language. Instead he embraces the centuries old language and translates it through his subtle movements and steady line delivery.
Frances McDormand’s portrayal of Lady MacBeth is conniving enough to be a distant relative of the snake in the Garden of Eden. Both McDormand and Washington’s performances only solidify why both continue to be praised as the greatest actors of our generation.
At its core, the main motif of this film is illustrating what happens when one becomes drunk with power. How it leads down a path of psychological turmoil, and irreversible damage to one’s personal and mental well-being.