Beowulf and Grendel Film Review

Gerard Butler
Gerard Butler

Deep in the rugged land of Midlevel Scandinavia an epic tale unfolded which has echoed poetically down through the ages. The story tells of a blood thirsty monster and a noble hero who boldly dared to stand in his path. Risking all that he had, this chivalrous champion put his life on the line in the defence of a nation which was not even his own. Who was this hero? The hero is known as Beowulf, and the tale of his battle with the monster Grendel has captured the minds and hearts of readers for centuries.

In modern times, numerous films, and plays have been created in the desperate attempt to visually capture the essence of this incredible literary work of art. Many people have sought to step into the shoes of Beowulf, yet few possessed the integral qualities necessary to portray such a mighty character. In today’s polished Hollywood environment, it can be argued that there is only one man capable of portraying Beowulf in all his rugged glory: Gerard Butler

In the 2005 film entitled “Beowulf and Grendel,” Gerard Butler brought the hero to life in a unique way which had never been experienced. His rough voice and menacing persona invokes a visual image of Beowulf capable of satisfying even the most diehard fans of the tale. Working in conjunction with co star Sarah Polly and renowned director Sultra Gunnarsson, Gerard Butler donned the clothing and appearance of a sixth century Dane and began an epic journey to portray on of the most beloved hero’s of all time.

A glimpse at the plot (note this is meant to tease readers and point out the moral of the story yet not reveal what happens in the end).

The opening scene of the movie finds a somewhat strange looking young boy racing across an open field followed closely by his tall menacing bearded father. Suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, the sound of horse hooves can be heard and five armed horsemen appear and begin chasing the man and boy across the plane. After sprinting wildly for several minutes, both the father and son arrive at the brink of a large precipice overlooking the ocean and jagged rocks far below. The father stops and turns to face the horsemen who, by this time, had closed in on them. The Boy meanwhile climbs down over the brink of the cliff in an attempt to hide himself. Peeking out over the edge of the rock face, the boy watches as his father is violently impelled with arrows and then stumbles backwards falling several hundred feet into the shallow water below. One of the horseman (king Hrothgar played by Stellan Skarsgård) approaches the edge of the cliff and peers down at the strange looking boy. For a brief moment he contemplates killing the child as well, but pity for the poor creature holds him back.

Thus, a fierce hatred was born. As it turned out the boy who survived was no ordinary boy, but a menacing troll like his father.  As the years passed, he grew into a monstrous giant of a man and came to be known as Grendel. Living in isolation out in the wilderness Grendel (played by Ingvar Sigurdsson) spent his time angrily smacking himself in the head with boulders and contemplating revenge on Hrothgar and his men (the people responsible for killing his father).

One night while Hrothgar and the Danes lay sleeping in their wooden hall, Grendel could no longer sustain his rage. Making his way down from his dwelling, he quietly sneaked into the Dane’s territory, broke into their hall, and mauled several men-carrying their bodies back to his dwelling place. The next morning, Hrothgar and the men who survived were grief-stricken when they realize what had happened. Meanwhile, Grendel comically entertained himself by setting up the severed heads of his victims and rolling large rocks at them.

Hrothgar knew something had to be done to stop Grendel, but none of his men were capable or willing to face off against the fearsome troll. Just when all hope seems lost, however, Beowulf (played by Gerard Butler) arrived on the scene and vowed to slay Grendel. Gerard Butler’s character, consequently, engaged himself on a collision course with the troll. As time passes it became apparent to Beowulf, however, that there was more to the conflict than met the eye.

Although Grendel was intent upon killing Hrothgar’s men, he showed no interest in harming Beowulf or the other foreigners who accompanied him. Perplexed by the situation, Beowulf turned to the witch Selma (played by Sarah Polly) for insight.

As the events of the film unfold, Beowulf, consequently, begins to see Grendel as an individual who has been wronged in some way rather than the mindless troll which Hrothgar venomously espoused him to be. This being the case, however, Beowulf still harbored the intent to stop Grendel and saving the Danes. In the following scenes, an exhilarating love affair develops between Beowulf and the witch Selma, and the hero is forced to come face to face with the monster Grendel in what turns out to be a powerful dynamic ending.

The Morals of the film.

Without revealing too much of the plot, the primary overarching morals contained within the film can be summed up in the following sentences:
1. Do not approach others with presuppositions:  Beowulf was shocked to find out that Grendel was capable of speech. At first he assumed that Grendel was just a stupid mindless animal. Only after speaking with Grendel and the witch Selma did Beowulf realize that Grendel was a cognitive individual.
2. Conflicts are dynamic: Grendel had a reason for doing what he did. King Hrothgar had killed his father right in front of him when he was just a boy. Although Hrothgar did not admit it at first, there was an underlying reason behind Grendel’s hatred of the Danes. Grendel was more than a mere ruthless animal. He simply sought revenge for the unjust murder of his father.
3. All people (regardless of race, gender, or social standing) have others who care about them. “Others know others.”  This moral is best illustrated in the final section of the film. As it turned out, Hancho (one of Beowulf’s men) was killed by Grendel. Beowulf (grief-stricken over the loss of his friend) turned to the witch for advice. In a powerful display of wisdom, Selma can be quoted saying, “Honcho’s life had worth to you since you knew him. Others know others.” Although this moral seems basic in nature, many people overlook it and justify mistreating others based on societal factors. Although the life of Grendel’s father may have seemed less significant to the Danes (since Grendel was a troll) for Grendel it was very significant. Similarly, the life of Beowulf’s friend Hancho seemed meaningless to Grendel but to Beowulf it was precious.

Interesting Facts Regarding the Making of the Film

• Beowulf and Grendel’ was born from conversations between Sturla and screenwriter Andrew Rai Berzins more than seven years prior to the making of the film.
• Gerard Butler had to travel to Iceland to play the part of Beowulf. The entire film was shot in Iceland.
• The movie boasts an almost completely international cast. Acting talent was pooled from all over the world.
• The movie is based upon the poem ‘Beowulf’ which is the oldest text of recorded English, first set to sheepskin in 1000 A.D. after 500 years of survival through oral tradition.

Significant Differences Between the Film and the Poem

Although there are many similarities between the famous poem and the movie “Beowulf and Grendel,” there are several differences which need to be addressed. The most significant are pertinent to the portrayal of the characters. For example, Beowulf was portrayed as far more down to earth in the film as opposed to the poem where his personality and physical capabilities were almost that of a demigod. In the poem, Beowulf did not possess any noticeable character flaws. In the film, however, Beowulf’s character flaws were clearly noticeable on several occasions (the most significant being his kidnapping of the witch Elma).

Furthermore, Beowulf’s physical abilities were far more down to earth in the movie than in the poem. In the poem Beowulf was capable of swimming across seas (literally spending days swimming). In the movie, however, Beowulf seemed to be exhausted after merely swimming a few miles.

Similarly, the portrayal of Grendel differed greatly between the poem and the film. Grendel was portrayed as an evil demon in the poem yet, a quick glance at the film would suggest that the director sought to portray Grendel as more of a mentally traumatized individual.

Taking all factors into consideration, it can be deduced that Sultra wished to take the fanciful abstract poetry of Beowulf and (in a sense) bring it down to earth. He desired to take a story shrouded in mythology and give it more of grounding in history. With this in mind, the major and minor changes in character attributes and plot can be justified and it can be concluded that Sultra Gunnarsson truly did an excellent job at bringing the tale of Beowulf to life on screen.

Summary:

Gerard Butler has done it again! His pristine acting talent enriched and added a personal element to the previously faceless mythological character of Beowulf. In an interview regarding his Character Butler can be quoted saying, “Beowulf sees killing as a necessary evil, but it’s kind of something that he’s done a lot of; and he is sad.” This portrayal of the human element of Beowulf captured by Gerard Butler is something which you will not find in the original poem.

It can be concluded that anyone who enjoys medieval style fighting, epic stories, or just downright good acting will enjoy this film. There have been many portrayals of Beowulf throughout the centuries; few, however, have been as powerful as that carried out by Gerard Butler. The film is truly an epic rendition of the timeless cherished poem.

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 Beowulf & Grendel (2005) Trailer

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