Towards the end of the official Shakespearian “Macbeth,” the titular character delivers a grim assessment of “dusty death”: the candle of vitality burns but briefly, and life “struts and frets his hour upon the stage.” Director Justin Kurzel, whose Macbeth is based on the Bard’s, takes the metaphor of the stage and runs with it, making scene after breathtakingly gorgeous scene typically depict either one of two realms of life.
On the one hand, there’s the magnificent, grim and barely lit Scottish world of weaponry, war and the faces of men smeared with dirt and death, in blood-hued backdrops of black and red. This is the terrain of Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), a nobleman, who serves King Duncan (David Thewlis). After a successful battle, Macbeth and his friend Banquo (Paddy Considine) happen upon three witches. Those Weird Sisters prophesy that Macbeth will get a more elevated title and eventually become king, and also that Banquo’s descendants will become monarchs. This is the world of archetypal Mars and the Fighter, representing action, battle, competition and the ability to go after and take what one wants.
On the other hand, there’s the fuzzy, candle-lit zone associated with the witches who, despite their homespun look, are themselves tied to a gauzy, future-revealing space, represented in nature through an otherworldly mist, and in church-like castle interiors bathed in golden light. Ghosts of the dead wander about, too. This is the the realm associated with Neptune, the archetypal energy tied to everything that’s not of the earth. In the world Kurzel has created, these dual backdrops are indeed characters in their own right.
When Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) hears the good news the witches have foretold about her husband’s future, her Saturnine ambition is triggered, making her eager to move things along more quickly. She manipulates him by describing what a real man would “do,” which thematically carries through until the very end, when she says, “What’s done cannot be undone,” about acts that have transpired largely through her Plutonic desire for total control.
Unlike the three witches, who neutrally transmit knowledge without any desire to use it for leverage, Lady Macbeth is a true Underworld force who sees it as a conduit for gain. Macbeth, who initially needs the push to get things rolling, gets into the killing groove fast enough. Those familiar with the story know that he winds up having his way (or not) with Duncan, Duncan’s guards, Duncan’s sons, Banquo, Banquo’s son, and another pivotal Scottish nobleman, Macduff (Sean Harris).
Macbeth is a tale of a man who embraces a greedy, Saturnine strategy in which the end justifies the means. Kurzel’s vision of seeing Macbeth rise and fall is sheer poetry.
Archetype: Overreacher. Manipulator. Greed.
Astrology Archetype: ♂ ♄ ♆ ♇ (Mars, Saturn, Neptune, Pluto)