Beowulf & Grendel

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For the book, see Beowulf and Grendel (book).
Beowulf & Grendel
Beowulf2.jpg
Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson
Produced by Michael Cowan
Sturla Gunnarsson
Eric Jordan
Anna María Karlsdóttir
Jason Piette
Paul Stephens
Written by Andrew Rai Berzins
Starring Gerard Butler
Stellan Skarsgård
Sarah Polley
Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson
Eddie Marsan
Music by Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson
Cinematography Jan Kiesser
Edited by Jeff Warren
Distributed by Truly Indie
Release date(s)
  • 14 September 2005 (2005-09-14) (Toronto International Film Festival)
  • 10 March 2006 (2006-03-10) (Canada)
Running time 102 minutes
Country Canada
Iceland
United Kingdom
Language English

Beowulf & Grendel is a 2005 film loosely based on the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf. Filmed in Iceland and directed by Sturla Gunnarsson, it stars Gerard Butler as Beowulf, Stellan Skarsgård as Hrothgar, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson as Grendel and Sarah Polley as the witch Selma. The film is a cooperative effort between Eurasia Motion Pictures (Canada), Spice Factory (UK), and Bjolfskvida (Iceland). The screenplay was written by Andrew Rai Berzins. The soundtrack was composed by Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson. The story takes place in the early half of the sixth century AD in what is now Denmark, but the filming of the movie in Iceland provided many panoramic views of that country's landscape.

While some of the film remains true to the original poem, other plot elements deviate from the original poem: three new characters, Grendel's father, the witch Selma, and Grendel's son are introduced, and several related plot points were developed specifically for the film.

In 2006, a documentary of the making of Beowulf and Grendel, called Wrath of Gods, was released and went on to win six film awards in Europe and the U.S.

Plot[edit]

Hrothgar, king of Danelands, and a group of mounted and helmeted warriors chase a large and burly man, whom they consider a monstrous troll, and his young son across a large open field until father and son find themselves on the edge of deep cliff overlooking a beach and a large sea. The father directs his young son, Grendel, to climb down and hide from the attackers' view. The Danes shoot the father dead with their arrows and his dead body plunges down onto the beach far below. The Danish king walks towards the cliff edge and sees the young Grendel hanging but chooses to spare him.

Later, Grendel is on the beach below and finds his father's body. After failing to move the large and heavy corpse, the boy takes a sword and cuts the head off to take it home.

Many years later, the severed (and mummified) head is inside a cave where the boy Grendel has grown up to be as large and burly as his father. Grendel bloodies his own forehead with stones to express his vengeful anger towards the Danes and the beginning of his own murderous campaign of revenge.

When Hrothgar finds twenty of his warriors killed inside his great hall, the Danish king falls into a depression. Beowulf, with the permission of Hygelac, king of Geatland, sails to Daneland with thirteen Geats on a mission to slay Grendel for Hrothgar.

The arrival of Beowulf and his warriors is welcomed by Hrothgar, but the king's village has fallen into a deep despair and many of the pagan villagers convert to Christianity at the urging of an Irish monk. While Grendel does go into Hrothgar's village during the night, he flees rather than fight.

Beowulf learns more about Grendel from Selma the witch and seer, who tells Beowulf that Grendel will not fight him because Beowulf has committed no wrong against him. A villager, recently baptized and thus now unafraid of death, leads Beowulf and his men to the cliff above Grendel's cave, but without a rope they are afraid to die descending to the cave itself, and turn back without even seeing the cave. When that villager is found broken and dead, Beowulf and his men return with a rope and gain entry to Grendel's secret cave. Grendel being absent, one of Beowulf's vengeful men mutilates the mummified head and shrine of Grendel's slain father.

That night, Grendel attacks Beowulf and his men while they sleep in Hrothgar's great hall, killing the Geat who desecrated his father's head and then, revenge satisfied, leaps out from the second story, but is caught in a trap by Beowulf, leaving Grendel hanging by his right arm. Grendel, refusing capture, escapes by hacking off his own arm. Grendel, bleeding severely, manages to reach the same beach where he had once found his father's slain corpse and wades into the water, where he dies, his body claimed by a mysterious webbed hand. Hrothgar admits to Beowulf that he had killed Grendel's father for stealing a fish but had spared the child-troll Grendel out of pity.

There is great celebration in the hall of Hrothgar, and the king's mood has been livened up by the defeat of Grendel, whose severed arm is kept by the Danes as a trophy.

In revealing more about Grendel's nature, Selma recounts how Grendel had once visited her hut and clumsily raped her and has protected her since that day, troubling Beowulf all the more. Yet that does not stop him from moving forward to kiss Selma, who deftly slaps him for tying her up earlier in the film, which he did in an attempt to get her to lead him to Grendel. Nevertheless, she then pulls his head forward and kisses him, quickly initiating and taking the lead in their lovemaking as she straddles him down on her bed.

The Danes are later attacked by Grendel's mother, the Sea Hag. Beowulf finds her lair, where she placed Grendel's dead body along with a pile of treasure, and slays Grendel's mother with a sword from this pile. Beowulf realizes the battle has been watched by a strange young boy with red hair, who is Grendel and Selma's child.

Beowulf, with Grendel's son watching from the shelter of the rocks, buries Grendel and builds him a marker, honouring him. Shortly thereafter, Beowulf and his band of Geats leave Daneland by ship but not before warning Selma that she must continue to hide her son, lest the Danes hunt him down as they did his father.

Cast[edit]

Themes[edit]

The film attempts to retell the classic tale of fantasy as a historical epic. And in fact, the film never makes clear whether Grendel and his father are actually "trolls", monsters from Norse mythology, or simply human beings with monstrous deformities (although it seems obvious that the sea-hag's appearance and abilities make her distinctly inhuman). Andrew Rai Berzins, in his blog,[citation needed] states that he intended that Grendel be less of a flesh-eating troll and more of a sasquatch; that is to say, something that may exist in the real world. Other viewers feel that Grendel and his father are supposed to be remnants of Neanderthals who have survived in isolated populations in the far north.[citation needed]

Beowulf as presented constantly doubts the Danes' assertion (and later, that of his own men) that the troll is a monster of all encompassing evil. His insight tells him that Grendel is a being of some intelligence and is operating against an evil done against him, which is confirmed by the king's admission to Beowulf that he slew Grendel's father (And yet, Beowulf notes, Grendel does not attack the king himself, implying a complex ethical and moral code. Grendel takes revenge against the Danes, but will not kill the Dane who spared his life). Beowulf deeply regrets the need to destroy Grendel, and yet accepts the fact that in his world, it must be done.

Another theme of the film is that of Christianity's introduction into pagan civilization.[citation needed] As Grendel's reign of terror continues with no end in sight, the people of the village turn away from their Norse gods, which seem to offer no help, and who, they believe, expect the Danes to fight and struggle unto death, to the Christian Jesus, who they are told forgives all.

Towards the end of the film, when the King and Beowulf argue the good of the Danes' conversion to Christ, the King points out that the Christians promise heaven. He asks Beowulf, testing him, if he worries where he's going after his death; Beowulf imagines he's going "where he's sent".

Reception[edit]

The film received generally mixed and average reviews from professional critics; it scored 53% at Metacritic and 48% at Rotten Tomatoes. Most critics praised the film's cinematography, its brutal action sequences, and aspects of its revisionist script, but criticised the dialogue and some of the acting.

William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes, "The film's near-fatal flaw is its dialogue, which had to be invented wholesale from the Old English text. It alternates between sounding stagy and anachronistically hip – with more overuse of the F-word than any two Samuel L. Jackson movies. It's a big mistake." Nevertheless, Arnold eventually recommends the film for "keeping its strain of rowdiness and violence in control, and lending the tale the kind of somber respect filmmakers tend to give adaptations of Shakespeare and Dickens."[1]

Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly commends director Gunnarsson for his "[focus] on the more interesting psychology of tribalism."[2] Bill Gallo of Village Voice writes, "It's good, bloody fun that stirs the intellect whenever it feels like it, and as a swashbuckler, the dead-game Butler outswings just about anyone in Troy or Kingdom of Heaven or Tristan & Isolde."[3]

The film has at least one major champion in Danél Griffin of Film as Art (for University of Alaska Southeast), who claims it "exists on the same plane of unadulterated genius as other mad, operatic visions like von Stroheim's Greed, Coppola's Apocalypse Now, Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Leone's Once Upon a Time in America." He hails the film for its reinterpretation of the poem as "a study of [the] sharp contrast [between] our ego-inflated perception versus the more humbling reality of our existence.... Gunnarsson and Berzins' ultimate conclusion is that we are creatures of the world, not creatures above or below it, and for all of our theology and philosophy and courage and civility, there is Grendel's severed arm nailed to our castle, and this trophy makes us feel good about ourselves. Its gory depravity representing our feelings of triumph transforms into one of the most revealing metaphors in all of literature."[4]

Other critics are less forgiving. Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle says, "Imagine the worst Deadwood episode ever, and you'll get an idea of the general tone of Beowulf & Grendel, which is full of anachronistic cursing, tortured syntax, dark humor and lots of hairy, homely, filthy-looking people. The filmmakers get their point across in about 30 minutes, leaving 70 more for severed heads and period charm. There's no charm."[5]

Todd McCarthy of Variety (magazine) agrees, writing, "Director Sturla Gunnarsson seems aware of the savagery intrinsic to the story, but is unable to mine it deeply, proving too genteel in the end to make a genuinely creepy or disturbing film."[6] Liam Lacey of The Globe and Mail concludes, "The movie is a lumbering and ludicrous mess."[7]

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