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Something Wicked: “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is great Shakespearian Horror

Something Wicked: “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is great Shakespearian Horror

Shakespeare’s sepulchral study of maddening militarism and deadly determination plays out as as a nightmare the horror of which is our inability to awake from the malevolent forces of fate. With cruel chances also being an identifier of film noir, a main cinematic influence of the Coen brother’s work, it seems fitting that Joel Coen’s first solo feature embraces the familiar frisson of inescapability, studded with references to sleeping, dreaming, night terrors and somnambulism. In the symbolical cold of a winterly Scotland providing the literally nebulous stage for his The Tragedy of Macbeth, the titular villain (Denzel Washington) becomes a dupe of destiny’s mysterious machinations.

The same goes for his scheming Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand) whose ambition the expressive visuals doom as ill-starred. Her aspiration seems a compensation for the emotional emptiness pervading the equally chilling and chilly chiaroscuro constructions, making the towering interiors feel evermore hollow. Steep settings which confine the characters within bare walls and iron bars signifying their psychological prisons become scaffolds for the Weird Sisters (a fearsome Kathryn Hunter, tripled by her mirror images and shadow). The three embodiments of the wicked impulses we call premonition look down upon the protagonist like puppeteers, telling his fate but by doing so also twisting and tailoring it.

That Macbeth as the most power-obsessed character turns out the most helpless, unable to resist the Witches’ gloating guidance of or his wife’s straightforward seduction, is part of the bitter consequentiality of a text cut down by writer-director Joel Coen to mirror the sparseness of the spectral scenery. It is equally inspired by the necessity-driven material restraint of Orson Welles’ Macbeth and danish director Carl Theodore Dreyer whose observations of spiritual colored obsession often cross over into the horrifying. It’s within this realm of classic horror that the black-and-white world of brutalizing bleakness and murderous manipulation comes into its own.

  • OT: The Tragedy of Macbeth
  • Director: Joel Coen
  • Screenplay: Joel Coen, William Shakespeare 
  • Country: USA
  • Year: 2021
  • Running Time: 105 min. 
  • Cast: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Alex Hassell, Bertie Carvel, Brendan Gleeson, Corey Hawkins, Harry Melling, Miles Anderson, Matt Helm, Moses Ingram, Kathryn Hunter, Scott Subiono, Brian Thompson, Lucas Barker, Stephen Root, Robert Gilbert
  • Release date: 25.12.2021 (US) 14.01.2022 (GER)
  • Image © AppleTV+ /limited theatrical