Death Death Death

By: Gabriel McSherry

From Othello, 1995 to Macbeth, 2015 and ending with The King, 2019, it was an interesting and long journey. If I’ve learned anything from watching these three movies, it’s two things: 1. I’m a visual learner especially when it comes to Shakespeare, and 2. an angry Michael Fassbender is the last thing I would want to run into.

Othello came out the same year I was born, so watching it compared to recent movies was naturally a little underwhelming. I made the mistake of viewing the trailer before, and I will not make that mistake again for old movie trailers, the only thing they do right is not show the entire film in three minutes. But it was purely the acting that kept the film together. I’ve never seen Shakespeare flow so effortlessly from the mouths of Lawrence and Kenneth and most of the cast. The film itself received decent reviews and I can see why. It was basically just the play put on screen with more realistic acting. The occasional fourth wall breaks with Kenneth were delivered perfectly, yet there were issues I had.

Othello looking kind of creepy and totally possessed...

Lawrence Fishburne as Othello seemed quite interesting because I haven’t seen him in a lot else. He seemed possessed and possessive like the devil. In the beginning he came across very calm and powerful with a flawless unbreakable love for Desdemona. But Iago’s words derailed him too quickly for it almost seemed like he was expecting it. There is a particular scene that sticks with me where he is about to make love to Desdemona, and there seemed to be an uneasiness in the room. Desdemona was on the other side of the room where Othello approached her like a tiger hunting its prey. Desdemona backed away in fear for a split second. This could have to do with Othello seeing Desdemona as something he cannot have and feels it is too good to be true. It could be love, or it could be the idea of her instead.

On the film cover, is it me or does Othello look kind of like a demon? I suppose it is the look of the possessed. Going back to toxic masculinity seen through early literature, it seems as “love” always needs to be interrupted. There is always this power dynamic among men where women are seen as property, where Othello doesn’t seem to care about what Desdemona has to say but retreats to this violence as it is the most necessary thing, and he retreats very quickly. It didn’t take much for Iago to turn him into a beast, and that is what interests me. There was no confidence within Othello, and no self-awareness.

Michael Fassbender looking to kill as Macbeth.
Really awesome poster in my opinion.

Fast forward to Macbeth, 2011 starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. I’ve seen this twice now and it’s very artsy and intense. Dark everything down to scenery and characters yet beautiful with the landscapes. Yet again we are seeing a character being possessed by a thought, then unnecessary carnage on the path to his vision being true. I’m rethinking why Shakespeare made such an indent in history with a lot of repetitive scenarios. But I remember being originally excited about this film, not because I read the story in high school, but simply Michael Fassbender. He is just a badass and acts beautifully in everything he does- Macbeth is no exception. The long shots of the Scottish mountains and the menace that Fassbender brings to the screen accompanied with the slow violins basically make this film a work of art.

However, I did get bored because I feel like the shots were long, but the story was kind of rushed through the violins and slow motion. There were a lot of… “Oh and then everyone knows what happened” throughout the film which seemed kind of lazy. It would be particularly difficult for someone to watch this film if they knew nothing about Macbeth. It’s also hard to care for Macbeth because he is just brutal and sinister throughout the entire film. We don’t seem to get as much emotion, just “I’m crazy and I want blood”. But like I said, I could watch Fassbender act all day. I enjoyed seeing him as this ruthless barbarian hungry for power because he pulled it off so well.

The King, 2019 I’ve also watched twice, and the second time may have been a little more enjoyable than the first. This seems to be the most modern montage of Shakespeare to date. This film did many things right and a few things wrong. One thing that made it unique was how young our leaders are. This king is a skinny boy with a tapered haircut that didn’t seem to fit the time zone and may have been a nod towards this generation. He also has “swag” in some scenes which was kind of funny to see.

Timothee Chalamet with his King Henry swagger.

When it comes to being realistic, I’m not sure where to start. A Siege that occurs halfway through the film is not some epic largescale Hollywood battle, but a slow underwhelming barrage from three trebuchets. That seemed realistic. But Robert Pattinson as the King of France ambushing three kids in the woods seemed a little ridiculous- trying to turn him into this alpha villain. And the use of the f-word took me out of the film more than drew me in. I found myself asking “did they even use that word back then? I didn’t think so…”. So, the film seemed to be divided with some realism, and unrealistic aspects just to connect with a younger modern audience.  

But just like Othello, we see an Iago type figure who just wants violence for power. King Henry goes to war just because this little snake lied to him and set France up against him. And there are no women in this film really, even less than the other two; not that there must be it’s just all boys and men. So here we are in 2021 and still telling the same story just with some modern modifications. The film itself was good and may be my favorite of the three, but it wasn’t different at the roots. Men need to commit violence that turns out useless and unnecessary.

I watched all three films in a day and that is enough Shakespeare for me. Just because you make a cool looking poster with Michael Fassbender looking mad as hell with war paint doesn’t mean the movie will soar- just maybe to the Auteur audience. It’s obvious Shakespeare is obsessed with death because that’s how all these story’s end. Othello seemed to be the most dynamic story, but the film could use a remake today and possibly a re-telling? Seeing all these films just tells me we need more originality stories today because the same thing is being told over again and again.

This is on the horizon:

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