The Tragedy of Macbeth

Absolutely exquisite.

Joel Coen adapts the Shakespeare play for the screen, with a stellar cast and resplendent cinematography. With spartan yet evocative set design, filmed in black-and-white, light is used not only to frame the story, but transform scenes. In my post on French Review, I criticised Wes Anderson’s use of visual symmetry as hollow, whereas Macbeth shows us the opposite of that. The archways, the pillars, the bowed heads, all create and convey meaning. On a set so bare, its geometry communicates the relations of characters to one another, and evokes the thematic underpinnings of a scene.

I loved the bird motif being brought to the fore. The crows of the dead coming with the bloody and portentous entrance of Macbeth, the bird as familiar of the witch, the owl shriek which announces King Duncan’s death in the night. Repeated is the psychopompotic heraldry of birds, and their stark contrasting forms against the white day or black sky.

Kathryn Hunter has to be given the highest of praise for her performance as the witches. Gollum-esque, contorted, gibbering, and altogether unnerving, she is just a stunning presence on screen. Frances McDormand’s Lady Macbeth also is to be commended, with her seeming to regard warily this man, who had to be chided into one tactical killing, but who now becomes someone who embraces the wholesale slaughter of women and babes. Denzel Washington’s Macbeth I found a bit patchy, ending strong at the climax, but a little too throw-away in his delivery at the beginning. I dunno, judge for yourself.

Really excellent, what a film.