All Hail!

SPOILER ALERT (even if you’ve read and / or seen the play)

I had been anticipating the US wide(r) release of Justin Kurzel‘s Macbeth from the minute I saw the first trailer, and my excitement only increased once I saw the second trailer. Having just finished reading the play with four classes, and having taught it for twelve of the fourteen years I’ve taught high school, I spent much of my viewing time noticing what was kept, changed, and cut in the translation from page to screen. (Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, of course, were wonderful.) I intend, therefore, to see it again, this time with (presumably) a different set of eyes.


Rather than risk turning this entry into some sort of source study, I shall focus on the movie’s end. In this version, rather than decapitating Macbeth offstage and returning with the dead king’s head, Macduff stabs him onscreen and abandons the corpse on the battlefield. In a departure from the play, Fleance–Banquo’s son, who escaped the men Macbeth hired to murder him and his father–returns, takes Macbeth’s sword, and runs off with it.

Kurzel’s version is not the first to have added a scene to the end of the play. Roman Polanski, for one, did so to great effect. Polanski’s film ends with  Donalbain–the younger son of the murdered King Duncan–visiting the witches who arguably had set in motion the series of events leading Macbeth to regicide, the Scottish throne, and so on. Thus, the cycle of violence continues, presumably ad infinitum . Such a dark interpretation is not surprising, of course, given the fact that Polanski’s pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, had been murdered by members of the Manson family only a year before Polanski directed Macbeth.

This latest Macbeth, then, seems to impart a different, and much more hopeful, message. Upon Fleance’s return, at least few of us expected (hoped?) the young man would use Macbeth’s sword to perform the decapitation we had been expecting. The subversion of this (as I maintain) reasonable expectation points to an alternative to Macbeth’s violence, another option for Scotland and thus for all humanity.

Whose perspective–Polanski’s or Kurzel’s–is more accurate remains to be seen. What do you think?