In this rendition of Shakespeare’s play, most of the characters and dialogue remain unchanged. Macbeth has fought valiantly for the king of Scotland. On his way back from the battle, he meets three witches who foretell that he will become king. Prompted by his wife, Macbeth murders the king and takes the throne. The couple is tormented by fear and guilt until forces gather to overthrow Macbeth. He dies in a duel while his wife dies of madness.

Director Rupert Goold moves the setting from 11th century Scotland to 20th century Europe. The soldiers are clad in army uniforms and trench coats. They walk in dingy underground tunnels, lit with cold light and separated by folding metal gates. We hear clanging doors, missiles flying, explosions, and dripping water. The film also incorporates real black and white footage of wars.

The scenes are mostly darkly lit, with unsaturated color, containing wine bottles, cracked walls, and torn wallpaper. The setting gives the audience an impression of a regime ridden by war, and also coldness, decay, and corruption. At times the lighting is harsh, splitting the actor’s face in two, supporting Shakespeare’s play of opposites and dualities, and echoing his metaphors of light and darkness. At times iron railings obstruct our view of the characters, building a mysterious, ominous atmosphere. At times the actors’ faces are shadowed by blinds. These choices are reminiscent of film noirs, which focus on crime and fallen morality.

There are also scenes which are characteristic of horror films. To make the witches inspire fear in the audience, they are portrayed by women dressed like nurses, who make their first appearance by killing a soldier and taking out his heart after seemingly attending to him. The hospital is a popular setting for horror, since it abounds in blood, guts, and the dead. In the witches’ second meeting with Macbeth, they dance around corpses and make them speak. Time is sped up to make the scene seem supernatural, and sounds of electricity add to the eerie effect. To a modern audience, this would be more terrifying than three women prancing around a cauldron.

Another “horror-esque” scene is where Lady Macbeth greets Duncan. Their conversation takes place in the kitchen, starting with servants hacking food and ending with the three witches brandishing knives. These visuals serve as hints of Lady Macbeth’s malicious thoughts, and anticipates the murder. Also, when Macbeth orders men to assassinate Banquo, he cuts a loaf of bread, the action of his hands expressing his intent. Later on, after Macduff’s family was murdered, the camera shows a doll on a wet floor. Dolls are creepy.

By using and combining characteristics of war films, film noir, and horror, Goold conveys the essence of Macbeth while bringing the story closer to the audience and making it more relatable. However, he does choose to maintain the original script, including the fact that it is written in an older form of English. Though at times there is a discrepancy between the script and what is shown on screen, (Banquo describes the witches “By each at once her choppy finger laying upon her skinny lips,” but the nurses were wearing masks; he could not see their lips) this reminds the audience that this is a Shakespeare play. We hear two voices speak at once, one is Shakespeare’s, and the other is Goold’s. We remember that this film is a modern artist interpreting an old text, and though there may be countless possibilities of form, what underlies the work—the nature of power, greed, and guilt—transcends all ages and forms of storytelling.

Margaret Lin is a junior majoring in Illustration at the School of Visual Arts. When she wrote this essay she did not think it would be published in a literary magazine.