Monday, March 10, 2008

Beowulf the movie, creates a new story by merging elements of the old. Retelling of stories go back forever. Beowulf is itself a retelling of the bee-wolf or bear stories of the polar north.

A Gelt prince comes to rescue the Danes when their mead hall, a first collective cave for their fermented grains, in 507 AD is under attack by a demon from the underworld of swamps and water. Sounds of drunken merrymaking symbolize the new human power over the environment, encroaching on the natural world, which rouses the demon and his mother, a kind of water queen in a womb like lair. The prince comes for honor not treasure; and the three battles that bring him honor in the book are now retold to bring honor dishonor and redemption in the movie.

Beowulf fights Grendel without any clothes or weapons- no trivial task since Grendel, son of the Dane king, feeds on men, and has grown to monstrous size and strength. But Beowulf beats nature down to a manageable size with his fists and Grendel is reduced to a tiny misshapen creature. As he leaves Beowulf traps him in the door jamb and rips of his arm.

The movie takes a misogynist spin on power as both corrupter and defender of society against the natural world. Power in terms of treasure and slaves and armies is resident in men who through their weakness before women birth evil. Women, except for the asexual queen, have a more malevolent roles as corrupters and mothers of men and their evil. When the evil spirit blows out the torches in the womb like lair a treasure torch won from a dragon lights the way for the hero. The woman is reveled as one who conspires for heirs from powerful rulers and provides power for natural treasures. As long as the horn stays with her, Beowulf will be a great and invincible king, father of her child “monster” and shielded for him and his people from the mercies of the elements.

Returning as the hero who vanquished Grendel and his dam (mother, ma dam?) Beowulf tells his tale of conquest to the admiring men and women, simpletons easily deceived by power. This deception has grave consequences as the old king knows. Beowulf, honored, becomes the target of every hot shot hero to be and grows legendary as his armies vanquish challengers while his people bear the brunt of never ending war.

Rich and poor are divide into a cast system maintained by an evil priesthood, sole possessor of the misshapen and maltreated slave, who ‘unwittingly’ retrieves the horn, and returns it, to great punishment, to Beowulf. To this priest comes the new faith of Christianity which Beowulf’s queen converts too. Seeing the horn Beowulf knows the games up; there is trouble and soon everyone hears the shriek of the underworld and feels the thunder and lighting and fires. He admits his transgressions and suits up for the final fight to deliver his people. Ironic since the new queens faith will not do that.

Soon he is fighting a dragon which appears to be a magical creation from the womb or perhaps his son through the dam? There are lot of missing connections at this point. Sacrificing everything he slays the dragon, with knowledge gained from the old king, which evaporates into the mists like magic released. As Beowulf’s funeral pier burns the dam appears out of the sea to tempt the new king.