Sunday, 21 February 2016

Alternate Best Actor 2015: Michael Fassbender in Macbeth

Michael Fassbender did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the titular character of Macbeth.

This in an interesting adaptation of the Scottish play taking a particularly stylistic approach to the material, although arguably to the point of excess.

Michael Fassbender's ignored performance of 2015 is in the often played role of Macbeth. Macbeth despite being a well worn character the way he's drawn in the play actually allows much interpretation to Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is really the more direct character in a way. This film offers a different motivation to begin with through the addition of Macbeth and his wife (Marion Cotillard) having lost their son before the beginning of the story. Fassbender in turn does not portray Macbeth as the standard sort of hero who simply stumbles upon the misfortune of the corruption offered by the witches. The initial battle where Macbeth finds his glory Fassbender portrays Macbeth as already deeply troubled and obviously depressed by his loss. There is a considerable dread that Fassbender exudes as a man who is not there for the glory of battle, but merely for duty. In Fassbender's haggard gaze there are the eyes of one who has seen many battles, and this next battle is yet another terrible ordeal for him. Fassbender is striking in portraying the anguish of Macbeth as he sees his fellow soldiers fall, and the loss of lives seem to weigh down his very being. When Macbeth meets the witches this is not a normal soldier stumbling on a cursed prophecy, but rather Fassbender shows a man who has already been deeply scared by life.

Fassbender offers an intriguing interpretation of the character as the King, Duncan, comes to his home, and the potential to fulfill the prophecy to become King becomes quite evident. Lady Macbeth only encourages the idea and Fassbender and Cotillard are very effective together. This is not the case of Lady Macbeth seducing her husband in order to claim the throne, but rather the speaking of the crown seems almost as some odd mutual solace between the two. When they discuss the plan there is a tenderness the two realizes yet it is not that of lust. Fassbender and Cotillard instead seem to suggest the two as almost utilizing the prophecy as some way to overcome their personal grief. Fassbender is rather fascinating in that he plays Macbeth as in a post traumatic daze, and as a man who is almost in a dream as he goes about his murderous plot. Fassbender in a way makes even the delivering of Macbeth's soliloquy of contemplating the murder particularly convincing, not just because Fassbender does certainly excel with Shakespeare's words, but he also portrays it as the insanity of  man who speaks to himself. The murder itself Fassbender depicts in a very detached way as he kills the King. Again though it works in giving an sense of Macbeth's state of mind as he barely seems to be able to comprehend the reality of what he has done. 

The plan of course works and Macbeth becomes King, but nothing seems successful about this endeavor. There is nothing but a hollow the stare as the two have apparently fulfilled their "dream". As he looks over his court Fassbender shows no joy, satisfaction, or even guilt about his place on the throne. Fassbender keeps Macbeth still as a man who haunted by the horrors he's seen, and the murder in fact has only worsened his state. Fassbender is quite powerful though as he portrays only a growing mental decay in Macbeth as he attempts to stay as King. As Macbeth goes upon allowing even more murders in order to stay as King which includes the slaughter of a family, as well as the murder of his best friend, Fassbender still keeps a detachment to the proceedings. It is true to the way he establishes the character, and succeeds in being rather chilling by showing only a poisonous madness growing from his original daze. Fassbender shows Macbeth as man trying to find some sort of relief for this, yet through every heinous act he only suggests a further degradation of the man's already fragile state. The madness only begets madness, and one should commend Fassbender for some how furthering the deterioration of the man, when he already began the film with the man rotting from the inside.

No matter what Macbeth does though he in no way finds any sort of comfort from his position. This in fact leads Lady Macbeth to eventually commit suicide. The finding of the dead Lady Macbeth is a tremendous scene for Fassbender as he begins the scene with that same daze that compelled him through the rest of his slow demise. When he seems to see that she indeed cannot rise Fassbender is rather heartbreaking in portraying Macbeth as finally having a moment of realization of what he has done. In the scene the guilt of his actions seems to appear as Fassbender poignantly delivers this moment of clarity as Macbeth for once seems to realize what he has done. Fassbender manages to make something truly moving from this by presenting it as Macbeth also seeing that he has gone too far to turn back now. This portion of the story is more traditionally when Macbeth becomes his most diabolical and becomes the villain for Macduff (Sean Harris) to defeat. Fassbender does not do this and in fact makes Macbeth possibly at his most sympathetic since before the initial murder. At this point of the story the armies of Duncan's sons are formed and are coming to retake the throne, and this is usually when Macbeth becomes filled with an egotistical pride believing himself invisible due to a final prophecy from the witches.

Macbeth though still must take the field of battle, this is usually shown through ego, but Fassbender presents an alternative reason. Fassbender instead portrays a somber acceptance of his fate, and that he must merely continue on the path to hell that he has set for himself. Now I could see how one could be disappointed by this, as often times Macbeth's downfall is where the real fireworks from the performance seem to come from. Macbeth's downfall is downplayed by Fassbender very much opposed to the usual approach to the character, yet I find it to be no less compelling. Fassbender stays true to his interpretation of Macbeth by showing him basically going through the motions of the battle. His final fight with Macduff is particularly different. Macbeth's famous line of boast that he cannot be killed by a man who is woman born, is not delivered with the usual confidence. Fassbender instead states it with sorrow as a man whose pained by his very existence, but continues since as far as he knows there's no other way out except suicide for him. The pivotal moment when Macbeth learns that Macduff can kill him, I found Fassbender surprisingly affecting by having the reaction less of a surprise, but rather that of man who finally understands that there is perhaps a way for him to end his suffering. This is an atypical take on Macbeth, and I can even see how it could leave some disappointed. I for one for this to be an outstanding performance as it offers a captivating and unique approach to a character where that is quite difficult to say the least.


Calvin Law said...

He really was brilliant. I'm not a massive fan of Fassbender (like him well enough but don't think he's the once-in-a-lifetime talent some have heralded him to be), but he simply handled this role in such a unique fashion that's so daring, and yet works out so well. Even when the stylistic tendencies threaten to distract from his understated performance he manages to utilise his presence and character work so well to build Macbeth into a truly compelling figure.

I really hated to take him out of my top 5 for Michael B. Jordan. Thinking back on it now I might put him back up as a tie.

Calvin Law said...

Is your favourite performance as 'Macbeth' still Mifune?

Louis Morgan said...


Without a doubt, though to be fair he does get the benefit of that ridiculously brilliant alternate ending Kurosawa came up with.

Calvin Law said...

I'm glad I stayed up for this review. Is this Fassbender's best performance?

Calvin Law said...

Also: how's this for a British version of The Hateful Eight, set in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence/Irish war. (still directed by Tarantino in the 2010's)

Warren: Lennie James/Michael K. Williams
John Ruth: Mel Gibson
Daisy: Saoirse Ronan
Chris Mannix: Cillian Murphy
Bob: Jean Dujardin
Oswaldo: Steve Buscemi
Joe: Ray Winstone
Smithers: Albert Finney
Jody: James McAvoy

Louis Morgan said...


Favorite? Not sure just as of yet.

Like em, except I think I'd probably go Emily Watson for Daisy, Ronan seems a bit too young for the part.

Matt Mustin said...

Louis, can I have your ratings and thoughts on Master and Commander and Dogville?

GM said...

I think it's his best performance, just need to rewatch Shame to be sure.

Deiner said...

I agree he was excelent.

Mitchell Murray said...

I love this performance.. I just don't see how some people think it was better than his work in "Steve Jobs"