I’m afraid I mislead my readers before, when I claimed that a new version of Beowulf would be coming to theaters this month.
It’s so much more than a movie.
It’s a line of action figures, a video game, a series of podcasts, a MySpace page, and quite possibly a nonstick cooking spray. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a fast-food tie-in yet. Incidentally, according to his profile on MySpaceTV, Beowulf is 21 years old and lives in Los Angeles, California. On MySpace proper, the movie has nearly 8,000 friends listed. As a Gen-Xer, I have no clue what it means to be friends with a movie. There’s some social valence there that I am simply unable to access.
Speaking of media tools that baffle me, some fell beast possessed me and induced me to listen to one of the podcasts, available on Beowulf’s official website, BeowulfMovie.com (not to be confused with its much inferior doppleganger, Beowulf-Movie.com) but the possession relented after about half of one episode that featured an interview with the movie’s writer, Neil Gaiman. Shortly after the point where the faux hipster podcasters and Mr. Gaiman agree that the movie is nearly impossible to describe and that people will just have to see it for themselves, I turned it off.
I absolutely do not recommend that you go listen to the podcasts for yourself, unless you enjoy slick Hollywood marketers ineptly pretending to be inept amateurs, but here are a couple of high points:
1) Gaiman reveals that the film contains many “oddly symbolic moments” like “a burning cross.” I can hardly imagine how they’ve managed to invest something like a cross with symbolism, especially a burning one. Surely it’s hard to get the symbolism to stay on in all that heat.
2) Blue is a very symbolic color.
3) The depiction of Grendel is “balls-to-the-wall in the movie, and balls-to-the-wall in the Old English as well.”
4) “The [visual] vocabulary of this movie is […] completely new. This is the first thing of its kind ever made. [Except for the Polar Express, but since I didn’t write that, it doesn’t count].”
Concerning this last point, I’ve managed to find an example of the revolution in visual vocabulary, cleverly hidden as the background image of the movie’s website:
Apparently, Grendel’s mother wears high-heels. Or, more accurately, as a shape-shifter*, she has made her feet into high heels.** Now, granted, there are no high heels in the Anglo-Saxon poem, as high heels didn’t manage to get invented until the sixteenth century, but this sort of observation is just pure academic pedantry. I might as well point out that there wasn’t computer animation in fifth-century Denmark, at least, no computer animation that remains extant. And while some historians theorize that there was a form of computer animation that was transmitted orally, it’s beside the point.***
The important thing here is not the anachronism, it’s the symbolism. In order to make Grendel’s mother into more of a Stacy’s Mom****, the creators of the movie had to dig deep into our collective unconscious to find a symbol for sexuality so unusual, so revolutionary, that the only option left to them was the high heel.
Now, I hear you saying, “Isn’t the high heel already associated with sexuality?” Yes, of course, and that is what makes it so revolutionary. Normal high heels are devices used to create the appearance of sexuality, by making the feet look smaller, the legs longer, the calves tauter, etc. As a shape-shifter, Grendel’s mother is in complete control of her physical form. She can make her feet as small as she’d like and lengthen her legs to match. In making her feet into shoes, she has had to actually increase the size of her feet and shorten the length of her leg–she has made herself less sexy, so that she can appear more sexy. The high heels then contribute nothing to the process except for the reminder of their normal function. She’s more seductive because she has had to take pains to appear like she had to take pains to appear more seductive. Don’t you see, man, the high heels symbolize the very act of symbolism, and isn’t that the most symbolic thing of all? I mean, dude. Duuuude.******
*So those of you who claimed that it was untoward for the movie to sex up Grendel’s mother by casting Angelina Jol–I mean, She Who Will Remain Nameless–in the part, take heart. She’s also a giant lizard creature in the movie, just like in the original.
**Also, note how the blue glow at her feet symbolizes.
***And fairly implausible. Those hypothetical sequences of ones and zeros, passed down from scop to scop, would have been rife with errors that would have made actually rendering the underlying code virtually impossible, even with modern computers.
****Or, if you prefer a more literary reference, Potiphar’s wife.*****
*****And if you’re one of the few who follow all the links in this article, you can Wikigroan about the relative length of the two references. Of course, as a Wikigroaner myself, I must follow the movement’s Prime Directive and not alter the data that I come into contact with.
******For the non-academics out there, this is about the closest this blog has ever come to representing actual academic scholarship. Academics spend their days saying things like, “The total lack of any explicit reference to Lollardy in this poem is the clearest indication that it is a provocatively Lollard poem.” And when we’re lucky, people pay us to do this. And that was the only freebie you’re going to get.