Beowulf Dissected

This is a spoiler-filled ramble about the Robert Zemeckis version of Beowulf.
I urge you not to read it unless you have no desire to see the movie whatsoever, or even better, have seen it already.


My friend commented to me that at numerous times through the movie, my face contorted in strange and unusual ways. And we did discuss some of what I am going to share here afterwards.
Beowulf the movie is not the epic poem by a long shot.
I may only be exaggerating slightly here when I say that the movie could be called “Mother of Grendel.”. It is Angelina Jolie’s Grendel’s mother (and really, if they were going to make her the plot driver for the whole film, why not invent a name for her!) who is the center of this film. The action, characters and plot all revolve around her.
There is a strange Freudian sort of symbolism in this movie.
We discover in the movie that Grendel did not come from nowhere. In fact, he is the son of Hrothgar and Grendel’s Mother.
Even odder, there are references to the King being unable to sire an heir of any kind on his young, pretty Queen. Its as if,having engendered one son by her, he is unable to sire any more children.
Beowulf comes along, kills Grendel. (Tearing his arm off, just like the story–although the reason why he fights him barehanded is NOT satisfactorily explained)
He’s given Hrothgar’s heirloom, a special drinking cup in the shape of a dragon. This becomes useful since for reasons that aren’t entirely explained, he takes it with him to the lair of Grendel’s mother after she wreaks revenge for her son’s death. He also takes a heirloom sword from Unferth.
The cup proves to be a light source, and it proves to be a bargaining chip when Beowulf meets Grendel’s Mother. I loved Jolie’s GM. I’d love to use her as a scion of an aquatic Chaosian House.
After failing to land a blow on her (and destroying that sword), Beowulf seduces/is seduced by GM, and gives up the cup as a token to keep her off the rampage. Beowulf returns, claiming that GM is dead, and carrying only Grendel’s head, and no physical proof of GM’s death. He explains away this, and the loss of the cup, and the loss of Unferth’s sword glibly, and people lap it up.
Hrothgar names Beowulf his heir, and promptly commits suicide. So, Beowulf becomes King…of the wrong country.
Time passes. The horn reappears in the marsh suddenly, and with it, comes a new threat…a dragon. It’s a great battle and great effects. However, if you’ve seen the pattern above…you are going to guess that (and you’d be right):
1. Despite a pretty young thing, who loves to warm his bed (and intimations she is not the only one who does), Beowulf has no heirs, legitimate or otherwise. His relations with Weathlow (who became his Queen) are frosty.
2. He names someone unrelated as his heir (loyal Wiglaf)
3. It turns out that Beowulf does have a son…in the form of the Dragon. Beowulf does give his life to kill the dragon, his son.
Beowulf is put on a burning boat, and sent out to sea as Wiglaf watches. And as the dead Beowulf burns on the boat, GM appears again, for what seems to be a farewell kiss. And the movie ends with GM and Wiglaf facing each other, one in the water, the other on the beach.
As you can see, this strain goes throughout the whole movie, and almost seems to be the point of the movie. We even hear Beowulf utter the phrase “Sins of the Fathers.”
Going into this movie, I had no expectations of it showing up, and it shocked and surprised me throughout the viewing of the movie. Now, a day later (and with a bit of a fever on the brain), I am less upset about it than I was. In fact, its more depth than you normally see in movies
of this stripe. I’m more baffled than anything by what the screenwriters were trying to do. I still don’t know what the cup is supposed to represent. It’s an important macguffin, but why does GM want it? What does it really mean?
And again, with GM as such a central role in this new version of the story…she deserved a name of his own.