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Dead Heroes and Weeping Martyrs : a Review of “Beowulf”

Posted by Remy on May 27, 2009


The movie Beowulf is a failed pagan epic, too Christian to be of any heretical weight. It begins in gold humanistic grandeur, yet it ends in a tarnished tin Christianity, a weak and inglorious metal. George Bernard Shaw gives a solemn “huzzah” when Unfirth mocks the eternal life doctrine. Julian the Apostate nods in approval of the low treatment of women, passed like possessions from man to man, but de Sade tsk-tsks his disapproval of the offscreen rape, good old Kubrick would’ve had it front and center. When hoary-headed Beowulf complains that “the time of heroes is dead…the Christ god has killed it, leaving humankind with nothing but weeping martyrs” Nietzsche gives a sharp clap of the hands, but then proceeds to grit his teeth at the weakness of Beowulf in showing regret, he pulls his hair as Beowulf plays to the sympathies of the audience (an unbecoming act for an uber-mensch), and storms out with bitter tears at the moralism of the ending. “You have conquered, O Galilean.”

The screenwriters have acknowledged that Christ has stolen this story and they try to take it back, but unfortunately the god they pay tribute to has his name butchered the entire time (“Odin” is not how you pronounce his name). Robert Zemeckis embeds the cross throughout the film, toppling it and setting it afire, but for all the impotency he wants it to have, we all know how this story is made immortal. Christianity for all its weakness and humility sure is a pesky thing to get rid of, to avoid, and to trump.

The only true hope for immortality, according to the movie, is to live on in stories. An enemy Frissan is spared because he has a Beowulf story to tell; he is attached to the story and his name is preserved. Yet even here the victory is undercut by the movie since the story is false. Beowulf is no hero, his power comes from his allegiance to Sin incarnate, fathering Death with her, and his legacy relies on others continuing the lie. His greatest victory is destroying his own progeny and Beowulf ends up like his enemy of old, Grendel, one-armed and dead in the water.

Much has been made of the digital effects. Motion capture avoids the stilted movement of computer generated figures, but it is not yet capable of conveying the expressions of an actor. Even Angelina Jolie, by no means an actress who –shall we say –draws from the deep well of emotion, suffers from the flattening, though her body may yet launch a thousand motion capture movies (side note: apparently deleting nipples is enough to keep the nudity of the movie from an R rating). The only advantage to the technology that I can determine (aside from the side note) is the ability to seamlessly incorporate dragons and monsters in the action. Though unintended by the filmmakers, I think the toylike look of the movie perfectly complimented its false view of the world. Preaching humanism and heroes it gave us fakes and fools.

Perhaps someday Zemeckis will discover, as Rome discovered, that it was the weakness of the martyrs, the weakness so despised by Nietzsche, that conquered the world. The tears of the martyrs were not shed for themselves, but were shed for Jerusalem. The tears of these martyrs were for others which –along with their blood– conquered and won Rome, whereas the tears of Achilles were for himself and Troy was lost. The heroes are dead and their stories are taken by Christ and that story has lasted for over a thousand years and may well last a thousand more.

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