April, 2 2014 Perspectives
As far as we’re aware, Shakespeare wrote Macbeth in 1606, making it roughly 400 years old and in desperate need of a revival. While setting an adaptation of the play in modern day Melbourne in the midst of a gangland war may have seemed comical a decade ago, with corpses piled high from St Kilda to Sunshine in the real gang war of the Victorian city, it now seems 100% plausible. The difficulty of course, is finding a way to accurately transform noble lords of Scotland into underworld gangsters and still maintain Shakespeare’s true intentions. It’s quite simple really, you can’t.
Despite Geoffrey Wright’s efforts in producing the twenty-first century adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in 2006, and his attempt to depict the concept of stereotypical gender roles and relations in a modern context, he has served only to make a mockery of this powerful tragedy. On the contrary, Roman Polanski’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, produced in 1971, is now considered to be one of the most influential filmic illustrations of the Shakespearean play, while closely following the themes and threads of the original text.
Polanski’s Macbeth was produced in accordance with the socio-political background of the 1970s. Thus, prior to embarking on an analysis of the film it is imperative to first gain an understanding of the era within which is was released. The turn of the 1960s established a period of immense change and development within society; the age of The Man on the Moon, Communism and Women’s Liberation.
Roman Polanski intertwined several of these pressing concepts into his production and more specifically, opted to highlight the stereotypical role of women and the appropriate way of conduct, through characterisation of both the Witches and Lady Macbeth as such prominent and powerful figures. His interesting interpretation of the final scene of the original text also reflects upon the period in which it was directed. The reappearance of the witches in the concluding scene of the film indicates the constant and cyclic status of unrest within the world, more commonly expressed as “The Wheel of Fortune”. Through the inclusion of such pertinent themes, Polanski draws attention from a more contemporary and cultured audience.
The initial scenes of the film generate a strong connection with viewers in relation to establishing the characters, plot and the context in which the film was intended. With the introduction of the three witches, who together constitute a very important part in the sequence of unfolding events, the viewer immediately becomes aware of the particularly dark and unsettling tone of the play. Assembled together on a rugged coast alongside a backdrop of an angry storm, the witches possessively chant, introducing the supernatural element of the play.
Furthermore, a strong sense of reality is engendered as the camera focuses in on each of the witches’ unnatural and unappealing physical attributes: the...