For my film analysis, I was fortunate that there many different adaptations of the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Most of them are set in the period of the play, like Roman Polanski’s 2002 version, which I also viewed and found to be disappointing at best. The only good thing was the realism of the sword fighting. Realistically clumsy in their armor, which was amusing, but other than that, dull, dull, dull. Instead, I opted to view and analyze the more modern version from 2006.
The 2006 version of Macbeth was adapted by Geoffrey Wright and Victoria Hill, produced by the same team and also directed by Geoffrey Wright. Victoria Hill also happens to play the role of Lady Macbeth. The first interesting choice that the director makes is the setting. This version of Macbeth is set in the underground drug world of modern day Melbourne, Australia. The hierarchy of a royal kingdom is represented with the hierarchy of a drug lord’s operation with Duncan at the head of “the family”.
The entire film has an almost “Miami Vice” feel to it.
Drugs, cars, guns and violence draped over the timeless tale of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. From the opening scene, the director of this modern day Macbeth makes some interesting choices. The weird sisters are the first characters we see in a graveyard running around defacing the headstones and sculptures, but they are represented by three sexy school girls. By making a creative choice to structure the adaptation so that no one else ever sees the weird sisters, the director creates the question of whether the weird sisters are supernatural entities or figments of Macbeth’s imagination, it is left unclear and open to interpretation.
The ambiguity of the existence of the weird sisters allows for the possibility that Macbeth is more than just greedy. Is he crazy? Is he high? Is he just losing it like his wife? In that same first scene in the graveyard, we see glimpses of Lady Macbeth mourning at the grave of a child while Macbeth stands back observing. This is just one of many scenes that lend themselves to question the psychological state of Lady Macbeth. In another early scene she is nearly unresponsive in the bathtub when Macbeth comes home.
Drugs and alcohol are ever present in their home. This is the most sympathetic portrayal I have seen. The later scenes of her washing invisible blood from her while sleepwalking only add to the impression that Lady Macbeth is not well. She is a woman in mourning, possibly depression and is easily drawn into madness. Macbeth, on the other hand, a loyal henchman to his crime boss, Duncan, is portrayed as somewhat of a rock star. His wardrobe is outrageous even in relation to the other mobsters.
He is brave, but brutal and Duncan rewards him for his loyalty and bravery. He is rewarded with not a kingdom but a nightclub which is where the weird sisters make their second appearance and deliver their prophecy to a cocaine tripping Macbeth amid smoke machines on the dance floor. Driven by their prophecy, the plots with his wife to kill Duncan, and takes the leadership of the gang for himself. Maintaining his power will require more murders and violence, finally driving his surviving enemies to unite and destroy him.
Again, no one else sees the weird sisters. Other interesting choices were the integration of classic images from Macbeth. The vision of the dagger was represented on as a shadow on the wall of the approach to the door where Duncan slept. The dagger turned out to be a shadow from a palm frond created by a floodlight. Interestingly, Macbeth seems to “debunk” the “vision” and sees that it is only a shadow. This seems to shore up his confidence as he moves inside to kill Duncan.
The scene where Macbeth murder Duncan is extremely violent, over top blood and guts and to make it worse, the director chose for Duncan to wake just before he is stabbed for the first time and see that it is Macbeth standing over him with a dagger. I think this choice by the director really reinforces the personal nature of this murder. Face to face, with a dagger even though there were guns everywhere. As the movie played out, I found myself wondering how the weird sister’s last prophecies would be represented.
The integration of the prophecies by the director was, in my opinion, genius. Obviously, Macduff would kill Macbeth and in true form, he found him alone in a wine cellar in Macbeths home and stabbed him, again, old school, face to face, man to man, instead of with a gun. But what I was most curious about was how the director would represent the “Great Birnam Wood coming to high Dunsinaine Hill”. Seeing the mobsters with shield made of branches would not have worked and would have been tacky and campy at best.
I was so impressed to see Macduff and the others come to Dunsinaine under the cover of a lumber truck from where? Yes, Brinam Wood, and they crash through the gate and the battle to take Dunsinaine and find Macbeth begins. Even though Macbeth sees the name of the truck on his security camera and even muses at it, he is still defiant and runs around reminding everyone that he cannot be killed by any man born of woman. The one scene that is either the funniest or the campiest in the film is a scene just before Macduff arrives where Macbeth is dressed for the occasion.
He comes out of his room and is dressed in a black leather kilt. I thought the homage to the Scottish roots of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but some have found it to be silly. A little tongue and cheek, but I appreciated the nod. In the end, Wright overdoes it with the gore, building to an excessive but extremely well-staged massacre. The brutality abounded. Perhaps, though, this over the top approach actually enhances Shakespeare’s powerfully timeless themes.