Macbeth is arguably one of Shakespeare’s most popular works and it has been adapted to screen numerous times, worldwide. One of the reasons for this could be the plot being heavily action-driven that usually does well in the market, however, it will be ignorant to think of it in only this way. Macbeth shows us through supernatural manner and grandeur of the story the very humanity in its most raw state. Macbeth addresses lust for power, the guilt of actions and inevitably the karma of wrong deeds. I feel like this core idea in Macbeth is universal, diverse and yet adaptable as it is with most of the Shakespearean plays, that it automatically becomes appropriate for changing audiences at different times.
The original play set in medieval Scotland; Macbeth outlines the lust for power and ultimately the defeat of the warrior Macbeth. The most loyal and valiant warrior of the army of King Duncan, Macbeth is educated by Three Witches that he would become the king. At the same time, the Witches anticipate that future king will be the son of Banquo, his comrade. Although initially, Macbeth decides to stay passive, he is influenced by his wife Lady Macbeth, who understood that regicide — the murder of the ruler — was the fastest approach to accomplish the fate that he had been guaranteed. When King Duncan pays a regal visit to Macbeth’s mansion, Macbeth under constant persuasion enters the king’s chamber at night and slays him and Macbeth and his Lady frame the guards for this murder. Events thereafter follow the throne being passed to Macbeth and his increasing paranoia because of the prophecy of the three Witches about the succession of the throne. He then masterminds the murder of Banquo and his son Fleance, both of whom speak to a danger to his authority as per the Witches’ prophecy. The contracted killers execute Banquo yet Fleance escapes.
Macbeth comes back to the same Witches who at first predicted his predetermination. This time, the Witches include another prophecy: Macbeth would be invulnerable in the fight until the time when the woodland of Birnam moves towards his fort at Dunsinane and until he was to face someone “not born of woman” in a battle. Dismissing both of these expectations as rubbish, Macbeth gets ready for attack.
The propelling armed force of Malcolm and the cautious arrangements of Macbeth camouflage themselves with sawn-off branches; Macbeth sees what gives off an impression of being a wood moving towards his for at Dunsinane. Furthermore, when he at long last meets Macduff in a single battle, his sworn adversary uncovers that he came into being by cesarean segment; he was not, exactly, “born of woman.” Macbeth is then killed. In the end, Malcolm is delegated as the new ruler of Scotland, to the approval of all.
The 2015 adaptation of Macbeth, titled Macbeth directed by Justin Kurzkel is extremely faithful to the letter and in fact, the film has retained the Shakespearian language. While the plot itself is parallel to the text, the interpretations and cinematography place the film in a whole different level, visually. The opening scene in the film shows us the dead son of Macbeth which is one key element in telling us about the ‘barrenness’ of his hierarchy, it also lets the audience sympathize with the character. I think the filmmaker Kurzkel used the idea of children in a horrifying manner where they are void of any childish nature but rather ‘representation ‘of the dark future for Macbeth. For instance, the hallucination of the teenage soldier speaks to Macbeth referring to the prophecy of the (four in this case) Witches ‘not born of woman.’ The film also shows Macbeth having hallucinations due to post-traumatic disorder after being weary of battles. The soliloquies in the film have been sequenced interestingly, especially the scene where guilt-ridden Lady Macbeth sleepwalks into the old church and out in the open yet foggy landscape kept me seated for more, it had me feeling as though there was something in store for us even though we already know the story. The use of color in this film cannot be ignored and it is astoundingly breathtaking. After the opening sequence the first few seconds of the film gives us the orange-red sunset with the Macbeth’s silhouette, this is immediately cooled off with the scenes of mountainous landscapes and fog, the movie becomes warmer as the series of events in Macbeth unfold and ultimately ends with the red, almost curse like color representing the bloody battles. In my personal opinion, the event after Macbeth acquiring the throne till the Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy was a bit of a drag and boring, but I also understand that the filmmakers must have given it so much time to tell us about the madness that was driving Macbeth. Additionally, this film also used the star power by casting Michael Fassbender as Macbeth and Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth. The vividness of the film is alluring.
This Macbeth adaptation is individualised as compared to ‘Throne of Blood’, however, for me the last scene where the son of Banquo takes the sword and walks farther inside the frame, as it appeared (to me), into doomed loop of which the son of Banquo was a part of since the very prophecy of the Witches, had me feeling that here the film was able to become more than just about Macbeth. This scene along with the cinematic use of the red and soundtrack lifted the whole Macbeth experience for me.
Coming to ‘Throne of Blood’ directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1957, it is inarguably one of the most highly praised adaptations of Macbeth. Quoting Stephen Prince from his essay titled ‘Throne of Blood: Shakespeare Transposed’, “Kurosawa often turned to foreign literary works for his films, but in all cases, the result was a transposition of the source rather than anything as straightforward as an adaptation. His appropriations of Shakespeare (here as well as in 1985’s Ran), for example, were acts more of historiography than of analysis, and descriptions of the films as adaptations minimize the true nature of what Kurosawa accomplished.”
To summarize, this film will be the same as summarizing Macbeth but this film features the 15th century Sengoku (warring states) of Japan. After watching the film one would understand the striking manner of the story-telling. The film is in an anti-climax sequence and begins with the unclear with dense fog a scene accompanied by a chorus chanting in Japanese,
“A proud castle stood in this desolate place
Its destiny wedded to a mortal’s lust for power
Here lived a warrior strong yet weakened by a woman
Driven to add his tribute to the throne of blood
The devil’s path will always lead to doom”
The ruins of the spider web castle are then revealed to us giving us the idea of the tragedy before it begins. In this scene, Kurosawa was able to fill us with a sense of fear and creepiness. I think the whole film is much darker than the ‘Macbeth’ (2015), also given the fact that ‘Throne of Blood’ precedes the 2015 adaptation; it is amazing how still today this movie is a benchmark when there has been so much advancement in filming technology, and yet I feel 2015 Macbeth is able to come close to ‘Throne of Blood’ but not surpass it. Following much of the same events as the play, one conspicuous characteristic of this film is that it does not retain any of the original dialogues. Although an adaptation, this movie addresses the civil war and on-going conflicts in Japan post the Second World War. This movie is in black and white, yet the use of images is still striking as it bestows a more eerie-feel to the whole movie. I think the deliberate absence of dialogues and silence during particular scenes in the movie built up the tension for me as I watched wondering what happened.
Asaji’s (Lady Macbeth) face in this film prompted me to think of it as a Japanese culture, which I later came to learn was rather a Japanese reference to Noh theatre where people used masks on their faces. I think this is an example of inter-textuality, where the film helps us know about something more than the story itself.
The depicture of the ‘evil-spirit’ singing in a low masculine voice in the forest coupled with dense, almost unreal white fog was able to give me chill. Even as the spirit was revealed to us, the filmmaker was able to make the idea of prophecy sinister giving the overall film a very dark atmosphere. The scene where Washizu sees the ghost of Banquo exhibits with great success the madness that had overpowered him.
Comparing the two films is difficult as each of these films has been able to get me to respond, however, I will add that ‘Throne of Blood’ was able to provoke a much more authentic and natural response for me. The film is not at all individualized, in fact, we did not get any full shot of Washizu’s (Macbeth) face in the entire movie. Even with the presence of such strong central characters and authentic performance this movie was, to begin with, more than about an individual. Still, the movie maker gives the death of Washizu enough screen-time and silence to sympathize with him despite all his actions.
In the end, I will conclude by saying that writing this article helped me understand that ‘Throne of Blood’ and adaptations, in general, are much more than what they appear to be.
Macbeth as a narrative has so much potential in its story and symbolism and hence it is justified why it has been adapted so many times. It is no doubt that along with many other Shakespearean plays, Macbeth will continue to be adapted and each adaptation will have to stand the trial and try to reach the benchmark set by ‘Macbeth’ (2015) and ‘Throne of Blood’ itself.