Justin Kurzel retains the intensity of Snowtown for his adaptation of Macbeth

With previous adaptations by Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa and Roman Polanski, the Australian director hasn’t given himself an easy task. That being said, this film which seems to have come out of nowhere has achieved something great.

Strong and bloody violence, betrayal, murder, moral dilemma and manifestations of the supernatural do not let the film’s intensity dip during its 113 minutes of screen time. The opening scene with the witches is replaced by a baby boy being laid to rest by his parents. Kurzel explores repercussions of the couple’s inability to properly mourn their dead son.  The couple’s childlessness is, in the context of the play, political; Macbeth does not have an heir to challenge Banquo’s descendants. The pertinence of such a bleak moment is powerfully felt; in this scene there is not one line of script, it chills right to the bone.

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Kurzel has diagnosed Fassbender’s character with post-traumatic stress disorder which manifests in violent and unpredictable actions. Indeed this re-contextualisation answers some of the play’s mysteries – ‘Is this a dagger which I see before me?’ – as well as responding well to the play’s meditation on the passing of time. To a war-veteran, the traumatic past never properly leaves the present moment. Kurzel has taken an early modern play written about the King of Scotland who was crowned nearly a thousand years ago and made it seem as relevant as ever. Time is out of joint for the audience just as much as it is for Macbeth.

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The majestic Skye film set deserves credit for the film’s success. Here is yet another Australian director enamoured with the Scottish landscape, and its majesty appropriate for the realm of tyrants whose unchecked ambition knows no limits. The landscape’s hostility is not just fictional; during filming Marion Cotillard almost disappeared into a bog and one crew member was physically lifted off their feet by the wind. It seems as if the decision to remain loyal to where the real Macbeth once presided comes at the expense of reawakening his violent desire for power over others.

Bloody, bold and resolute and seeming to come out of nowhere, this film is a must-see.


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