Macbeth’s First Meeting with Witches in Cinema

Every reader and moviemaker may have some particular point of view on some episode of a play. This detail helps a book to provide its readers different impressions. Besides, in a case of cinema, every particular director’s impression becomes common through the audiovisual means of cinematograph. In the case of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, as well as in a case of any other play, there are no many descriptions in the text because the author wrote it not for reading, but for playing. That is the reason why every scene of the narrative is undoubtedly open for any interpretations. For me, one of the most important and significant scenes of The Tragedy of Macbeth is that where Macbeth meets the witches who uncover him his future reign. Thus, the scene of Macbeth’s first meeting with the three witches appears in very different interpretations in the play’s productions. For example, it is possible to compare the films of 1961, 1971 and 2015. Each of these narratives provides different position and shows the story of Macbeth in other general light. In my opinion, the best attempt did Justin Kurzel (2015) who provided an authentic Scottish medieval atmosphere and combined it with a supernatural image of witches demonstrating in this way both main character’s specific experience and the vague line between the reality and supernatural visions common for those times and lands.

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The scene when Macbeth meets three witches is significant for the general narrative because it is the start position for Macbeth’s mental disorder. Macbeth’s perception of the reality may be divided into two parts: before and after the prophecy. When Macbeth hears: “All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!”, he becomes possessed by the idea of his future reign. In my opinion, this scene should provide the general account of all future scenes: somehow include all of the next events and imply that Macbeth will become a mad king. There is nothing supernatural in the play’s part except the vanishing of the witches, but the general atmosphere of the play requires some deep elaboration of this part in order to show not just Macbeth’s acquaintance with his future, but his contact with the infernal side of the reality represented by the witches. It is clear that the achievement of such goal would be difficult for Shakespeare without the today’s cinematographic means, but this detail does not undermine the general intention of his play.

Among the scene’s cinematographic interpretations, there can be analyzed those by Almond (1961), Polanski (1971) and Kurzel (2015). Each of them has some specifics, and the difference between them helps to underline the contrast between any interpretations of Shakespeare’s narratives. Thus, Almond’s television film is black and white, it explores the contrasts of monochrome shots, and in this way, the director poses Macbeth in the opposing point to the witches who are dancing in the mist, and this detail makes the line between light and darkness very vague and uncertain because of the communication between Macbeth and the witches. The witches appear as silhouettes, and this scene especially explores the monochrome picture of the film. At last, the witches disappear in the mist leaving the main character disappointed. There is no music, and the costumes are very poor, but the general effect of the monochrome picture may be impressive. In the film by Polanski (1971), the witches appear as just three women among the ruins, while Macbeth and his follower appear as just knights in ordinary armors used in the films concerning the Medieval epoch. Thus, the costumes are good, but very banal, as well as the general atmosphere because in contrast to the film by Almond, in that of Polanski there is no mist, and instead of that the witches disappear among the ruins. Thus, Polanski tries to exclude the supernatural element and emphasis the events of the play. In my opinion, such approach in this case is incorrect because the witches (and especially their influence) belong primarily to the inner world of Macbeth who becomes mad after this scene. The intention of Polanski to provide something resembling theatrical production is so deep that he even did not use any music to underline the scene, as well as Almond did. It is also important that both Almond and Polanski did not ide many different shots for this scene: both focus on the face of Macbeth and show three witches together (as monochrome silhouettes in Almond’s case, or as ordinary women in Polanski’s case). In this respect, the film by Kurzel (2015) totally differs. The costumes of the characters look like authentic Scottish costumes used by knights and other people, while the costumes used by Polanski look artificially. The makeup of the characters of Kurzel’s film is so perfect that the watchers can recognize blood and mud on the face of Macbeth who meets the witches after his victory in a cruel war. Thus, the picture is very realistic. Furthermore, the music provides the atmosphere of gloomy loneliness and solitude as well as the valleys and the mists filmed by extreme wide shots. It is important, besides, that in the film includes a lot of different shots that help to provide the full combination of the landscape, the mist, the characters’ feelings, some other details and so on. The picture is dark blue, and most of the colors there are also bluish, but in contrast to the monochrome picture of Almond, that of Kurzel is very deep, and it provides the feeling of presence in combination with authentic costumes, realistic makeup, atmospheric music, dynamic scenery and other details of Kurzel’s interpretation. In other way, the film by Kurzel makes the play so realistic that the watcher may feel himself or herself presenting among the witches in misty Scotland.

Through the comparison provided, it looks that the scene’s version filmed by Justin Kurzel is the closest to the general context of the play. The supernatural atmosphere provided by the lonely misted Scottish valley, darkened light, authentic Scottish medieval costumes in connection with perfect makeup (especially in the case of Michael Fassbinder who plays Macbeth) and transcendent music – all of that poses the general notion of supernatural event when the watcher sees this episode. Even without any acquaintance with the play, a person may understand that those three female figures Macbeth meets are not just women, but something grim and significant. Thus, the director in fact creates the atmosphere of the future action through this scene, and constantly mentions it in the next scenes as a symbol of the main character’s inevitable and destructive fate. In my opinion, Shakespeare could want to provide such effect when he wrote the play. Certainly, in his times the theatrical production was able to get something it the style of Polanski’s film (1971) where all characters wear standard European armor, and the witches appear as just three women without any supernatural effects. Besides, this detail does not mean that Shakespeare could not want to achieve the effect of total involvement into the main character’s perception of the situation that becomes possible with the today’s cinema technics. That is why I suppose that Kurzel’s interpretation is the closest to the playwright’s goal.

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