Postmodernism blurs the boundary between high and low. Linda Hutcheon opines that “An adaptation is not vampiric: it does not draw the life-blood from its source and leave it dying or dead, nor is it paler than the adapted work. It may, on the contrary, keep that prior work alive, giving it an afterlife it would never have had otherwise”. It transposes one genre to another. Both the film and the literature are equally valuable.
Macbeth (2006): A Postmodern Film
Film studies have faced a great change in this postmodern era. It has moved from reality to hyper-reality, text to hypertext, radio to television and modernity to postmodernity. Electronics and digital media have overtaken the print media and eclipsed it. Fredric Jameson in his book Postmodernism says, “the priority of film over literature in jolting us out of print culture and/ or logocentrism, it remained an essentially modernist formulation, locked in a set of cultural values and categories which are in full Postmodernism demonstrably antiquated and "historical." That film has today become postmodernist…” (68). Postmodernism blurs the boundary between high and low. Linda Hutcheon opines that “An adaptation is not vampiric: it does not draw the life-blood from its source and leave it dying or dead, nor is it paler than the adapted work. It may, on the contrary, keep that prior work alive, giving it an afterlife it would never have had otherwise” (176). It transposes one genre to another. Both the film and the literature are equally valuable. The buzz-words that occur in postmodernism are simulation, hyper-reality, pastiche, parody, intertextuality, fragmentation, heterogeneity, decentering, cyborg and cyberspace. These terms continue to dominate cinematography and television. Speaking of “Postmodernism and Television” Marc O’Day refers to Jean Baudrillard in the following lines:
The postmodern theorist Jean Baudrillard, in his book Simulations uses the terms 'simulation' and 'hyperreality' to describe the 'mediatization' of reality in contemporary society. Given his tendency towards abstract and totalizing theory, he rarely mentions television by name but his speculations make most sense in the context of watching TV. He argues that with the massive increase in signs and images circulating in postwar media society, the distinction between objects and their representations has disappeared. We are, he alleges, now living in a world of 'simulation', where media-generated images function independently of any reality external to them. Signs and meanings float in a self-referential 'hyperreality' - an excessive reality and also one which is literally 'hyped' by advertisers and others. (Sim 112)
Baudrillard in his work “The Precession of Simulcra.” says that we live in a world where human being is slowly disconnected from reality. He laments on the loss of the real. He describes this process into three categories- simulations, implosion and hyperreality.
Adaptation of film from literary text is not a new thing at all. In case of adaptation Shakespeare’s works are widely accepted across the globe. Although his plays were written for the dramatic performance of sixteenth century Elizabethan period, yet they have been adapted several times by many modern film directors. The Bard of Avon refuses to be limited within the time and space. Shakespearean plays can take place anywhere in the modern city as Shakespeare is not for an age, but for all times. Many themes and theories have been applied on the films of Shakespeare for the purpose of academic study- from fidelity and auteur theory to post colonialism and postmodernism, everything has been experimented on the films based on his plays. Wright’s film Macbeth 2006 is concerned with the postmodern crisis of the present time. It projects the cruel criminal world of Melbourne in Australia. Thus four hundred years old Scotland is recontextualized in the modern city Melbourne.
By quoting Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities we may draw an analogy to describe the present situation of the postmodern world, where everything is in flux without having a certainty. It is the age of flourish and capitalism where everything is complicated and dubious.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…(Dickens 3)
Postmodernism is a movement that originated in the mid to late twentieth century across philosophy, arts and architecture. “Literary criticism in general examines the relations between writers, texts and “the world”. In most literary theory “the world” is synonymous with society--- the social sphere” (Fenn). New things are invented by writers by using their rational power to make literature more charming and interesting. In the process of literary evolution we get many new theories like Modernism and Postmodernism etc. Postmodernism in literature is something which is quite difficult to define properly. Postmodernism has been perfectly described by M. H. Abrams in his book A Glossary of Literary Terms :
The term postmodernism is often applied to the literature and art after World War II (1939-45), when the effects on Western morale of the first war were greatly exacerbated by the experience of Nazi totalitarianism and mass extermination, the threat of total destruction by the atomic bomb, the progressive devastation of the natural environment, and the ominous fact of overpopulation. Postmodernism involves not only a continuation, sometimes carried to an extreme, of the counter traditional experiments of modernism, but also diverse attempts to break away from modernist forms which had, inevitably, become in their turn conventional, as well as to overthrow the elitism of modernist "high art" by recourse to the models of "mass culture" in film, television, newspaper cartoons and popular music. (227)
There is a great debate about Modernism and Postmodernism. Modernism emerges as a reaction to the Russian Revolution (1905) and World War I (1914-1918) and in art it promotes Cubism, Surrealism, Dadaism, and Futurism like innovative movements. In literature it rejects traditional realism, chronological plot, continuous narrative, omniscient narrators and close readings and it welcomes stream of consciousness, non-linear plots, fragmented forms, multiple narrators, open ending. It starts to dominate over classical traditions. On the other hand, Postmodernism blurs the boundary between high and low culture, rejects grand narratives, meaning of signs are no longer stable, originality is questioned, and reality is replaced by simulation. (Etherington-Wright and Doughty 116-118). A great change occurs in structure and style.
Postmodernism in media is a very confusing term, because there is no safe criteria for good and bad art, no question of true and false in philosophy, no judgment of right and wrong in ethics. Postmodernism has highly influenced the media of film. Contemporary societal structure and the modern way of living life are meticulously captured by the lens of camera. Good and evil both are projected with the consequence to give sermon to the mankind and to give a new structure to the society. Geoffrey Wright picks up the story for his film from Shakespeare’s four hundred years old play Macbeth and he represents the film perfectly by adding vigorous colour with it. The simple reason behind the selection of this play for film is, no doubt, for its immense success as a play since Elizabethan era. Film may be a genre of art but its’ ultimate purpose is to gain commercial profit. Capitalism has deeply affected the film literature and other branches of art. Fredric Jameson asserts that “postmodernism is nothing less than 'the cultural logic of late capitalism'” (Sim 113). As the story of Macbeth is well known to almost all educated people, so it will instantly catch the attention of Shakespeare lovers. Besides, because of the worldwide influence of Shakespeare this movie will not only be consumed well in Australia, but also in other countries equally. Geoffrey Wright in an interview said that, “Great thing about Shakespeare is always the highly motivated leads and you often can’t get that from the local riders.” The film represents the glossy lifestyle of the modern metropolitan men. Though Wright has taken the skeleton of the story of Macbeth but he has changed the setting of the play into a new cinematic action-story. Shakespeare's story of greed and ambition is transformed into the hyper-violent drug gangs of modern Australia. Macbeth (Sam Worthington) in this film is a drug baron and Lady Macbeth (Victoria Hill) is a drug-addicted and psychologically challenged woman. Duncan (Gary Sweet) is the head of Melbourne's criminal underground. The roles of the three young witches are played by Chloe Armstrong (first witch), Kate Bell (second witch), and Miranda Nation (third witch). Role of the Banquo is performed by Steve Bastoni. Other minor roles are performed by Lachy Hulme by Macduff, Bob Franklin as Siward, Matt Doran as Malcom, Damian Walshe-Howling as Ross, Jonny Pasvolsky as Lenox, Nash Edgerton as Macdonwald, Christopher Kirby as Seyton, Craig Scott as Fleance and Kim Gyngell as Doctor. Language of the film is quite same as the original play, but the setting is transformed into a postmodern world. A strata of drug dealing people’s adventurous and risky life comes through the powerful lens of Wright. Their hedonistic life is perfectly portrayed by capturing their day to day lifestyle.
By applying hermeneutic code of Roland Barthes it can be said that the very beginning scene of the film draws our attention completely by projecting the perilous nature of the three witches. It creates an atmosphere of mystery and enigma and increases the level of suspense in the mind of the audience. It is a usual trope in film to grab the attention of the audience in the very outset of the movie. Although in this film audience is already aware about the original plot, yet Wright with his artistic vision tries to represent the opening scene in a different colourful way. The role of the witches is strategically used by the director to have a strong impact in the mind of the audience. Unlike Shakespeare’s Macbeth here the witches are not supernatural, rather they are corporal figures. The roles of witches are enacted in this film by three young school girls. They are exceedingly beautiful in their appearance, in that sense they can be called bewitching witches. Witches are very seductive and deceptive; they are neither old, nor bearded like that of Shakespeare’s witches. Witchcraft has significantly altered during the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The demonstration of the weird sisters has been changed from the fearful supernatural entities to the seductive temptresses. This projection of witches is largely influenced by the cultural, social and political context of the period in which they are produced. In this film witches are no more supernatural entities with magical powers, but ordinary people who are doing evil and ominous works. Michael Adams in his research paper “Review of Macbeth” says about the witches that:
Wright opens the film with three attractive, thin young women (Chole Armstrong, Kate Bell, Miranda Nation) dressed in school uniforms carousing in a cemetery. Will Gibson’s monochromatic images and Wright’s swooping camera quickly establish that this isn’t going to be your grandfather’s Macbeth. With a drug deal gone wrong—automatic weapons, bullet-riddled bodies—Wright presents Macbeth (Sam Worthington) as a Melbourne gangster on the rise. He’s content to be the loyal henchman of Duncan (Gary Sweet) until the aforementioned “witches” and Lady M. start stirring up his ambitions—and hormones.
The opening scene shows the weird behaviors of the witches. One of them is breaking the cross of Christ and tombs. This breaking down of the cross clearly indicates their evil nature. They are against the god and good. The calm atmosphere of the churchyard is agitated by their mischievous works. Another witch is bringing out eye ball from the stone statue with a screwdriver. These shots are taken by Wright from a very close distance in order to enhance the viewing effect. As Shakespeare’s plays have its own atmosphere, similarly the film has also successfully created a gloomy atmosphere in the very beginning scene. One witch uses blood like red spray-paint on the face of a statue. They have created a disorder by laughing, screaming and running in a furious manner. All of these incidents have been projected to show them as unnatural sinister figures. Then they utter the most striking opening lines of the play:
First Witch: When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain? Second Witch: When the hurly-burly's done, When the battle's lost, and won. Third Witch: That will be ere the set of sun. First Witch: Where the place? Second Witch: Upon the heath. Third Witch: There to meet with Macbeth. (Mac.1.1.1-8)
Then the camera focuses in the high sky and the title of the film appears on the screen. A deep critical observation of this scene will reveal that the sky gradually turns into black. The gloomy sky in the beginning suggests the theme and motif of the movie. Symbolically the dark cloud suggests the tragic atmosphere of the film and metaphorically it also indicates the psyche of the witches.
Colour and music have played a pivotal role in this film. Combination of vivid colour and melodious music gives the movie a new dimension. By using latest technology and tools Wright has represented a glossy picture of the criminal world. Wright has said in an interview, “We looked at a lot of Asian cinema the use of colour and the kind of restless camera work you know and the blatant use of lensing you know there is a vitality and innocence about Asian cinema that I find quite refreshing… The high def loves to pick up the kick-off materials and it can make very cheap materials and textures look very expensive. It loves jewelry; it loves the glisten in an actor’s eye”. Sam Worthington’s Macbeth is very loyal to his boss. He is a devoted servant until he meets with the witches and his concealed desire is provoked by his wife Lady Macbeth. In the opening scene while Hill’s Lady Macbeth is giving white roses to their beloved son’s grave and weeping in front of it, Macbeth concentrates on the witches. The contrast and emotional detachment between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is clearly conspicuous in this scene. Wright here uses the filmic technology of deep focus to demonstrate Macbeth’s facial expression and inner thoughts. Macbeth is strongly attracted to the sexuality of the young witches. As a consequence of this encounter he meets with three witches in the next scene in the nightclub. Turning on the music, disco lights and the fog machines Macbeth goes down to the nightclub soundstage. This scene is beautifully balanced by Wright by using light, music and fog. The appearance of witches does not create an atmosphere of fear and horror; rather they are represented as seductive girls. Macbeth kneels down in the midst of surreal fog and spotlights swirl around him. He stares at a spinning disco ball and the witches start to speak: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair, / Hover through the fog and filthy air” (Macbeth).
Worthington's Macbeth is alone in the nightclub with the flirtatious witches, Banquo is absent because of his illness. Macbeth is provoked by the witches around him. During the conversation he touches their hair, body and tries to kiss them and Wright's camera circles in dusky red light. They deliver prophesies in a hallucinatory spin and escaped from the hands of Macbeth. Wright has scrupulously captured the postmodern life style of the present time- from the sound of gunfire to the music of DJ, from the physical union to the psychological isolation, from the lamentation of loss to the celebration of power. He has shown the fall of Satan from the angelic position of Lucifer. The underground world is perfectly portrayed by his artistic vision.
Macbeth is not only favourite to Duncan but also dear to his wife Lady Macbeth. He pays much attention to his beautiful wife. Had his wife a good women his life would have something else. Both of them have to suffer a lot because of their vaulting ambition. It is his wife who helps to germinate the seed of witches’ prophecy. Victoria Hills’ Lady first appears on screen in the bathroom lying on a bathtub in a drowsy state. She is a cold-blooded criminal. Murder of Duncan is beyond the furthest part of the Macbeth’s imagination. Lady Macbeth has first planned it and injected it in the mind of Macbeth:
Macbeth: My dearest love, Duncan comes here tonight. Lady Macbeth: And when goes hence? Macbeth: Tomorrow, as he purposes. Lady Macbeth: O never Shall sun that morrow see. (Macbeth)
Hill gives her best performances to make the character of Lady Macbeth more realistic. Apparently Hill’s Lady is a gracious women but her character is too complex to understand properly. Just before the Duncan’s arrival she comes out from the Duncinane to welcome her guests. Opening the door she stands near the house under the moonlight and starts to chant her wishes: “Come, you spirits/ That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here” (Macbeth 2006). She gives Duncan warmth welcome only to take his life. Hills’ Lady crushes sleeping tablets to make the guards unconscious, so that they can perform the murder of Duncan without any hindrance. Macbeth has brutally performed the assassination of Duncan. This scene has been created maintaining the climactic suspense of the text. Both Shakespeare and Wright have represented the murder in a ruthless manner. In order to capture the minute details of the pathetic death Wright has taken very close shots. Macbeth stabs continuously even after the death of Duncan. After doing such a heinous work Macbeth collapses down and Lady Macbeth tries her best to support him but ultimately fails to convince Macbeth. Her vocal tone does not work properly after the death of Duncan. Mcbeth has lot the control over him.
She herself also becomes the victim of her own memories and unable to save her soul at the end. The end of the Lady Macbeth is very pathetic and it arouses pity in the mind of the audience.
Macbeth becomes a bloody murderer. In order to hide the evidence of his crime he keeps on killing one after another. Not only Duncan, but also Banquo and Macduff become the victim of Macbeth’s evil eye. The tiger gradually starts to hunt the entire forest. Banquo is killed by the murderers which are hired by Macbeth. But Fleance saves himself from the clutches of the murderers. Banquo tries to take revenge not when he was alive, but after his death.
In the next scene Macbeth discovers a witch in his bedroom and then goes to the kitchen room and hears, “Double, double toil and trouble;/ Fire burn, and cauldron bubble” (Macbeth). He finds there three witches standing completely naked. He joins with them and drinks poisonous soup from the cauldron. Then suddenly a witch jumps on Macbeth’s back and music changes into a thumping club beat. They enter into a room lit with hundreds of tiny candles light. During the process of union the witches start to give prophecy. This scene is represented by wright in a sensual way. One witches says, “Macbeth, Macbeth, Macbeth: beware Macduff,/ Dismiss me. Enough” (Macbeth). The new prophesies are cried out in moments of sexual passion- “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until/ Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill/ Shall come against him”, “for none of woman born/ Shall harm Macbeth. (Macbeth)”
Laura Mulvey in her article, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” says that cinema offers a number of possible pleasures. Scopophilia is one of them. Woman becomes the object to be looked at and man the viewer:
In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure, which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness.
Visual pleasure of looking at human figure is generally divided into two categories – male gaze and female gaze. Here in this film woman figures are projected as a sex object. Macbeth and three witches are presented nakedly in the film. Lady Macbeth is projected in a sensual way. Geoffrey Wright in an interview said that:
David McCoy was the production designer and Nicole Dover Gaga did the makeup. They had really honoured their craft and commercials and that’s the skill that I wanted them for to make things seductive and beautiful so that you could share Macbeth’s materialism you know and lust and vaulting ambition.
Towards the end of the movie Lady Macbeth dies and Macbeth becomes completely isolated. When adversity comes it washes everything like a sea wave. Not only the loss of his dear wife is the end of his suffering, but also he has to loss his kingdom. Malcom and Macduff with their army come to attacks Macbeth by a truck containing Birnam timber. A terrible gunfire begins and soldiers of both groups start to target one another. In the war of gunfire and fighting Macbeth is wounded heavily. He realizes that he will die very soon and finally he goes to his bedroom and merged with his wife. Both the beginning and ending of Macbeth’s life is marked by the spark of machinegun. While the first gunfire gives him honour, love, happiness, power and position, the last one takes everything away, even it does not leave his own life.
Macbeth is a postmodern film because it contains some typical features of postmodernism. Though when the play was written at that time there was no existence of postmodern theory. By the way we can read the play and watch the film from the perspective of postmodernism. If we critically look at the film we will get some significant features of postmodernism.
Postmodern theory promotes some ideas which are different from the traditional ideas. Binary opposition plays a pivotal role in postmodern theory. Postmodernist critics believe that there is nothing good and bad and high and low. Similarly, we get the binary contradiction in the speech of witches, who say that good is bad and bad is good: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair,/ Hover through the fog and filthy air”(Macbeth). According to them all good is evil and all evil is good. The character of Hills’ Lady initially seems to be bad and but on course of time she becomes an object victim of her own conspiracy and the audience feel sympathy for her. On the other hand Worthington’s Macbeth is called as “valiant cousin’ and “worthy gentleman” by Duncan but with the advancement of the film he turns into a bloody murderer. Again betrayal of Cawdor is also quite shocking to Duncan. Captain reports that “So from that spring whence comfort seemed to come,/ Discomfort swells”( 1.2.26-28).
Identity is a big deal in postmodern theory. Postmodernism celebrates the multiplicity of identity. They believe that a single person can possess multiple identities. Postmodernist critics believe in the Freudian concept of identity which is not stable, but an ever conflicted tension between id and ego, conscious and subconscious mind. In the film Hills’ Lady says to Worthington’s Macbeth:
Your face, my thane, is as a book where men May read strange matters. To beguile the time, Look like the time, bear welcome in your eye, Your hand, your tongue; look like th'innocent flower, But be the serpent under't. (Macbeth)
Hills’s Lady requests to her husband to appear like an innocent flower but to be evil from the inside in order to befool others. Thus Macbeth’s identity is in flux, it is unstable one. Again Duncan also says that “There's no art/ To find the mind's construction in the face” (Macbeth). He trusts former thane of Cawdor who has cheated him. He is going to the same mistake again by trusting Macbeth.
Postmodernism celebrates the plurality of partner. Instead of monogamy postmodernism prefers polygamy. In this film we see the extramarital relationship of Worthington’s Macbeth with the three young beautiful witches. Though he has a beautiful wife yet he is attracted towards the seductive beauty of the witches. He has committed a crime by uniting with the witches and thus brings his own downfall. This aspect of plurality of partner is celebrated in postmodern theory.
Postmodernism critics believe that language has no fixed meaning. In this film prophecy of witches are also highly ambiguous: “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until/ Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill/ Shall come against him”(Macbeth). And “for none of woman born/ Shall harm Macbeth”(Macbeth). Apparently these prophecies seem to him impossible to happen. Macbeth takes these words of witches lightly and later he realizes the puzzle of the language.
Postmodernism does not lament fragmentation rather celebrates it. “For the postmodernist, by contrast, fragmentation is an exhilarating, liberating phenomenon, symptomatic of our escape from the claustrophobic embrace of fixed systems of belief. In a word, the modernist laments fragmentation while the postmodernist celebrates it” (Barry). Postmodern theory has been formed after the World War II. While modernism laments for the loss of so many lives and godforsaken wasteland, postmodernism becomes ready to accept this great loss. Postmodernism believe in the meaningless of life. Everything is irrational. Macbeth at the end realizes, “Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more. It is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing” (Mac.5. 5. 23-27). He has gained nothing in his life; all of his victory and achievement become meaningless to him at the end. So in that sense, after discussing all these points, Macbeth can be called also a postmodern film, and in a larger sense Shakespeare is also a postmodern man, in whatever period he may belong; his plays have the postmodern features.
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