Monday, November 19, 2007

Beowulf, Grendel and Grendel's Mother

Beowulf is a heroic poem. It opens in Denmark, where King Hrothgar's splendid mead hall, Heorot, has been ravaged for 12 years by nightly visits from an evil monster, Grendel, who carries off Hrothgar's warriors and devours them. Unexpectedly, young Beowulf, a prince of the Geats of southern Sweden, arrives with a small band of retainers and offers to cleanse Heorot of its monster. The King is astonished at the little-known hero's daring but welcomes him, and after an evening of feasting, much courtesy, and some discourtesy, the King retires, leaving Beowulf in charge. During the night Grendel comes from the moors, tears open the heavy doors, and devours one of the sleeping Geats. He then grapples with Beowulf, whose powerful grip he cannot escape. He wrenches himself free, tearing off his arm, and leaves, mortally wounded.

The next day is one of rejoicing in Heorot. But at night as the warriors sleep, Grendel's mother comes to avenge her son, killing one of Hrothgar's men. In the morning Beowulf seeks her out in her cave at the bottom of a mere and kills her. He cuts the head from Grendel's corpse and returns to Heorot. The Danes rejoice once more. Hrothgar makes a farewell speech about the character of the true hero, as Beowulf, enriched with honours and princely gifts, returns home to King Hygelac of the Geats.

The second part passes rapidly over King Hygelac's subsequent death in a battle (of historical record), the death of his son, and Beowulf's succession to the kingship and his peaceful rule of 50 years. But now a fire-breathing dragon ravages his land and the doughty but aging Beowulf engages it. The fight is long and terrible and a painful contrast to the battles of his youth. Painful, too, is the desertion of his retainers except for his young kinsman Wiglaf. Beowulf kills the dragon but is mortally wounded. The poem ends with his funeral rites and a lament.

Beowulf belongs metrically, stylistically, and thematically to the inherited Germanic heroic tradition...Yet the poem is so infused with a Christian spirit that it lacks the grim fatality of many of the Eddic lays or the Icelandic sagas. Beowulf himself seems more altruistic than other Germanic heroes or the heroes of the Iliad. It is significant that his three battles are not against men, which would entail the retaliation of the blood feud, but against evil monsters, enemies of the whole community and of civilization itself. Many critics have seen the poem as a Christian allegory, with Beowulf the champion of goodness and light against the forces of evil and darkness. His sacrificial death is not seen as tragic but as the fitting end of a good (some would say “too good”) hero's life.

(Beowulf.Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved November 18, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD ).

Beowulf the movie is a fast moving adrenalin pumping action movie. It was specifically formatted to look like a computer game. The actors were modified digitally to look like CG characters in a computer game with their two dimensional features and movement. What the movie 300 has done for comics, Beowulf did it for computer games. This is another example of life following art. The storyline follows the Beowulf epic but condense the two parts into one. Beowulf inherits Hrothgar’s kingdom instead of Hygelac’s.

The emphasis of this movie is on the human side of Beowulf instead of his legendary heroic persona. Beowuf was portrayed as a young man eager for fame, fortune and a name in history. He and his soldiers will travel the world in search of adventure. That led them to Denmark to kill the monster, Grendel. Beowulf was easily seduced by Grendel’s mother who promised him a kingdom, lands, gold, women and a legendary name. Many years later, an older and more mellowed Beowulf regretted he sold his soul so easily. He was battle weary from having to fight younger heroes who seek to kill him and made a name for themselves. He was also disgusted with himself over the legend that grew around him about him killing Grendel and his mother (he lied). The older Beowulf revealed his true heroic nature when he sacrificed himself to defend his people from the attack of a dragon.

Beowulf’s humanity is our humanity. We too are prone to be tempted by worldly success; fame, fortune, wealth, sex and that our name is remembered for posterity. Beowulf reminds me of another action hero in the Bible- Samson. Samson too was tempted and subcome to his temptations. He too strayed from his true calling. His redemption, like Beowulf, came when he sacrificed himself to kill his enemies.

There is much violence in this movie that I am surprised by the ‘U’ rating. The violence may be too intense for some children. However I have truly enjoyed the show and gives it a four star rating.

‘nuff said.


It is now rated PG-13 in Malaysia



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