Saturday, February 10, 2007

Beyond Good and Evil

A friend wrote an essay a while back discussing the problem of evil. While I did not fully agree with his argument, if one were to make a film supporting the idea that evil is "an impossible notion," one could not do much better than the compelling Beowulf & Grendel. I must revisit the source material; I cannot recall exactly how the original plays out - my memory of high school literature has fallen into a thick haze. That's getting to be a while ago, after all. Eh? What's that you say..?

The original English-language epic is here rendered a rather melancholy tale of decline and loss. Beowulf, played by Gerard Butler, is no glorious hero. He is wary of the hero's mantle, and pursues his quest with a fatalistic sense of duty. Still more, the monster Grendel is no fiend. He is primitive, animal-like; a fearsome yet simple brute who hates the Danes for their cruel murder of his father. He is a force of nature, as capable of gentle humor as of stone-crushing fury. In this incarnation of the beast, I could finally understand and believe the passages from the original story in which Grendel crept silently through the King's hall without raising the alarm.

King Hrothgar of the Danes is a shattered, drunken figure, the hunt for the creature has left him hollow. He is haunted by his own sins against Grendel. Ignorant of this history between Grendel and the Danes, Beowulf and his company puzzle over the monster's unwillingness to confront them. They begin to inflict cruelties upon Grendel, provoking him into a rage.

Beowulf learns more of Grendel and the Danes from the village shaman, a wise woman living on the fringe of tribal society. She understands the delicate balance that has been upset and that may be irreparable. Beowulf faces a sobering reality: the injustice to Grendel cannot be ignored, but neither can Grendel's insatiable, bloody-minded desire for vengeance.

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