A24’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth”: A Promising Retelling

A24s The Tragedy of Macbeth: A Promising Retelling

This past weekend, Blair Henry and I took an all-too-familiar trip to the Citadel Mall IMAX movie theater to see A24’s The French Dispatch, a little late considering the Wes Anderson masterpiece made its  theater debut nearly two months ago. The French Dispatch was fantastic, but not the point of this article. For once, Blair and I made it to the theater before our movie time. With the theater to ourselves, we reclined our chairs for the previews.

The screen cut to black. Loud, melodic pangs begin as a menacing scene of circling crows appears. We watch a minute-long preview for a gothic, foggy movie filmed entirely in black and white. Still shots snap onscreen one after the other over a spooky score. I marveled at the screen. An A24 movie with director Joel Coen? We both agreed that whatever this movie was, we must see it.

Blair and I were absolutely astounded when the movie’s title was revealed. A24’s upcoming release is The Tragedy of Macbeth,  releasing on Christmas Day 2021. Though our AP Literature class has not yet started the Shakespearean play, I am thoroughly thrilled for this rendition of the classic tragedy. I typically tire of retellings, but this is a movie that I am very much anticipating, for several reasons.

First, this is one of the strongest trailers I’ve seen in a while. Too often a movie’s trailer shows the juiciest parts to excite their audience, which I find too frequently ruin the movie. Since the plot of Macbeth is already so widely-known, Coen didn’t have many details to hold back. Instead, he used the trailer to convey his artistic choices and direction for the tragedy. The trailer for The Tragedy of Macbeth is suspenseful, concise, and thoughtful in what it shows. Despite retelling a centuries-old story that is too well-known to be spoiled, both the teaser and the trailer hold back, displaying lots of still shots.

Arguably, the most exciting aspects of The Tragedy of Macbeth lie not in the onscreen events, but those involved in its production. As is true for most retellings, spinoffs, and reboots, the audience’s excitement is not in hopes of a wildly different story, but for the new production of their nostalgic favorites. The Tragedy of Macbeth offers much in terms of its producers, directors, cast, and screenwriters. Denzel Washington takes the stage as Macbeth, and Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth, two actors known for their bold and theatrical approaches to their roles. The cinematography is done by Bruno Delbonnel, a French cinematographer who has worked under Coen before on both The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Inside Llewyn Davis. 

Finally, the reason for much of the uproar surrounding this film: it is Joel Coen’s first solo work. Many are likely familiar with the Coen Brothers as a director duo, if not their work. Ethan and Joel Coen have been behind many masterpieces of the past three decades. Fan favorites include The Big Lebowski (1998), Fargo (1996), No Country for Old Men (2007), and my personal favorite, Raising Arizona (1987).  Fans were bewildered to discover that only one of the Coens was behind The Tragedy of Macbeth, but the brothers have stated that there is no animosity in their split, Ethan is merely “taking a break.”

In an interview with The Guardian, Coen made some statements that make his interpretation of the movie appear even more enticing. Coen said that his intent for The Tragedy of Macbeth was to make Shakespeare more digestible for the common audience. In what he called “boiling down the text,” Coen stated that he still wanted to “figure out how to get the rhythm that goes relentlessly through the whole thing like a murder movie.” While Coen has never made any formal study of Shakespeare, his outlook that Macbeth is the first movie thriller, “[prefiguring] 20th-century pulp noir tropes,” is certainly a unique one.

Since Macbeth has faced an unquantified number of directors’ takes over the centuries since its release, it has been subject to the interpretation of many, especially as the understanding of Shakespearean English dwindles. However, I think Coen still has much to offer this story. If you haven’t yet seen the teaser and the trailer, I highly recommend giving them a watch.

I leave you all with some stills from the trailer. Since I have zero knowledge of the source material for this movie I cannot offer any context, but honestly, that may make it better. If Macbeth is boring and slow, I’d be none the wiser based on the tension in the trailer.