Beowulf and Grendel (2005)
Peasants, Townspeople, and Social Life
Hwaet! Great are the tales of the Spear-Danes
How they broke and bloodied their Foes
How they tamed the Northern seas
Some takes sail, others sink
Below the waves but no less true…
Welcome aboard! Climb up and take your seat on this Danish warship as we sail into the world that is Beowulf & Grendel (2005). Now let us cast our sights on the approaching seas and see what this cinematic tale has in store for us!
Appears to be smooth waters! Beowulf & Grendel is a Canadian- Icelandic film that loosely adapts the Old English epic poem, Beowulf. Released in 2005, the film attempts to recreate fifth- or sixth-century Scandinavia. With remarkable costuming, enchanting scenes, and the handsome face of Gerard Butler, this movie has the makings to be the next big hit!
Oh no, we appear to be approaching rough waters! Well, because of its loose interpretation of the source material, horrible dialogue, and controversial sex scenes, not even Gerard Butler and Stellan Skarsgard could save this film from sinking. For starters, the film introduces characters not even present in the legend- for example, a witch named Selma, Grendel’s father, and Grendel’s own son! Most important, Selma, the a witch and a prostitute, plays a crucial role in understanding the mind of Grendel; yet surprisingly, her only importance is that of foreseeing death, translating Grendel’s “NaNaNaNa’s” and being the planting site for the seed of Danish men, Grendel and Beowulf. Can’t say I’m surprised, what else were woman good for during the time of the “barbarians”? Besides either being a witch or a sex slave!
Quick! Grab the rope, we appear to be sailing straight into a storm! Considering the epic poem was likely written by an Anglo-Saxon monk long after the conversion of England, it is puzzling that the film makes few references to Christianity. However, when it does, it tends to be in contemptuous and condescending ways. Yes, the legend is based on Norse mythology; however, it had been “Christianized” for the intended audience—fellow Anglo-Saxon Christians. In the poem, Beowulf himself acknowledges God as his protector! The film’s director, Sturla Gunnarsson, chose to do away with any of the story’s Christian elements. The film’s Beowulf is humanized, contemplative, doubtful and prone to faults. He is not the god-like, full of valor, prideful and strong Geat described in the epic. Additionally, all of the supernatural elements found in the Beowulf epic are stripped away though, confusingly enough, Grendel is still a supernatural troll who has the strength of thirty men!
Look! A rainbow amidst the rain! In terms of the portrayal of Grendel (by the actor Ingvar Sigurdsson) the film slayed! His monstrous appearance and his performance were nothing short of astounding. I should note here the 1971 novel Grendel by John Gardner, as I believe inspiration for the film was taken from this book, particularly Grendel’s attitudes and mannerisms. Whether Grendel was bowling with the heads of Danish knightsor urinating on the doorstep of Heorot Hall, I could not help but love the child-like monster! He truly was the star of the film!
Look onward, land is approaching! Although the film did not remain entirely true to the legend, it may have given viewers an interpretation of Beowulf from the viewpoint of pagan Nordic people. If this was the case, it would explain the minimal use of Christianity and the heavy presence of Norse mythology—specifically references to Valhalla. Although the legend does contain Scandinavian events and characters Beowulf himself, is a myth. Literary scholars believe that Beowulf is simply a reinterpretation of former heroic legends. Therefore, literary junkies, like myself, should take a seat on our own warship and accept the film for another interpretation of what Beowulf could have been!
Ah, we have approached land! Although the film has many inconsistencies and controversial sex scenes, it does give viewers a taste of what life would have been like during Scandinavia in the early middle ages. It offers viewers a chance to immerse themselves in an Old English classic while also providing some fun and captivating storyline.
And remember, don’t forget your father’s head and your arm while departing the warship!
June 16, 2006 (USA, limited)
Early Middle Ages (c. 500-1000)
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Anna María Karlsdóttir