Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Had to happen sooner or later

  • Stephen T. Asma kvetches about the "revisionist" new take on Beowulf in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
I tease, really. Asma does make some astute points about the original text and its fancy new 3-D incarnation. Haven't seen the flick yet but I shall probably bite the geek bullet and go soon.
In the film, Grendel is even visually altered after his injury to look like an innocent, albeit scaly, little child. In the original Beowulf, the monsters are outcasts because they're bad (just as Cain, their progenitor, was outcast because he killed his brother), but in the new liberal Beowulf the monsters are bad because they're outcasts. And while the monsters are being humanized, the hero is being dehumanized. When Beowulf asks Grendel's mother, "What do you know of me?," she replies, "I know that underneath your glamour, you're as much a monster as my son Grendel."

The film cleverly ties Beowulf's final monster fight to the earlier episodes with Grendel and his mother (something the original fails to do). By transforming Grendel's mother into a femme fatale seductress, they've found a way simultaneously to further demonstrate Beowulf's flaws, give the female lead more dimensionality (albeit uncharitably), and connect the denouement to the earlier story.

But more interesting than these plot changes is the character adjustment. In the original, Beowulf is a hero. In the new film, he's basically a jerk, whose most sympathetic moment is when he finally realizes that he's a jerk. It's hard to imagine a more complete reversal of values from the original Beowulf story.

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