Beowulf (2007)

Dublin Core


Beowulf (2007)


The Animated Middle Ages


Beowulf is such an old poem, and studied so extensively, that its importance as a work of art is often overshadowed by its historical facts. As a result, I imagine many people try to absorb Beowulf, believing it to be something it is not: for example, an accurate history of Scandinavia, a compendium of Swedish kings, a book on Geatish weapons, or even a glimpse into Nordic religion. The poem, like the movie, is nothing more than a riveting tale of hero and tragedy – and perhaps a biography of the author might make that clearer.

No bard claims to have written Beowulf, but the name is unimportant to us; what is important is when and where. Scholars know it was written in England, and analysis of meter and diction (as well as dozens of references to God and Cain) confidently dates the poem to well after the Christianization of England, circa 700-800. The author was likely a literate, Anglo-Saxon Christian scribe. So, what would convince a Christian to write about the glorious battles of a 300-year-old Geat, when his hand could be put to transcribing something much more exciting: The Life of St. Thomas? Remember that the ancestors of the Anglo-Saxons residing in England would have lived in the same setting and time as Beowulf – and this poem might be a way for those Scandinavian descendants to reconnect with their pagan past in a new world where the one God is driving away many.

And the Nordic and Christian religion are absolutely irreconcilable. Nordic religion is mythology – and in these stories the gods appear as mortals more often than divine, monsters are physical beasts who will destroy the gods on Ragnarok, and plunge the world into Ginnungagap (a void, like a gap). Christian theology is strikingly different: Christ is always in his divine form; demons and monsters are now metaphors for the internal, and eternal spiritual conflict; and if you’ve read Revelations, Jesus is gonna win in the end. Despite being set in the sixth century, there are virtually no references to the Nordic gods (in the movie or the poem) – yet there are plenty of Christian references. Grendel, and his mother, are descendants of Biblical Cain, and repeatedly the poet refers to God with different titles (some translated: maker, old-maker, father, all-ruler, etc.). I’ve concluded that there are two possible reasons for this: the author simply does not know much about Germanic paganism, or he is guilty of Christian anachronism by modifying old, heathen texts so God appears where he never existed.

The 2007 adaptation Beowulf does take the Christian element one step further, by actually adding a Christian character. He is already an established figure: Unferth, adviser to the King and first antagonist to Beowulf. In the beginning scenes of the movie, Unferth is speaking to a solider about accepting the “Roman God, Christ Jesus”. Those first two words are very interesting, and entirely the invention of the screenwriter, Roger Avery. I could imagine those words being used by some far away converts to Christianity – after all, the spiritual homeland Israel is just a tiny strip shore by the sea, compared to the wealth and size of the Roman Empire. Unlike the poem, Unferth’s God plays no role in the movie (the only shot of a primal Church is quickly burnt to a crisp by a dragon). I think this is simply a product of the times: Beowulf the poem was intended to entertain Christian audience of, probably, other Anglo-Saxons – and as a result the author is not looking to attract historiographers. Beowulf the movie is meant for the twenty-first century, to entertain moviegoers – and a star-studded cast, as well as innovative motion-capture battle scenes are certain to attract more people to the legend than a movie that accurately portrays sixth-century Danish Christians. 


Dan Garrett


November 16, 2007


Shangri-La Entertainment
Paramount Pictures
Warner Bros.




Fantasy Adventure


Early Middle Ages (c. 500-1000)

Moving Image Item Type Metadata

Original Format

Feature Film


114 minutes


Robert Zemeckis
Steve Bing
Jack Rapke
Steve Starkey


Robert Zemeckis




Dan Garrett, “Beowulf (2007),” Medieval Hollywood, accessed June 6, 2023,

Output Formats