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The Tragedy of Macbeth

also known as “Macbeth,” “A Tragédia de Macbeth,” “Bi Kịch Macbeth,” “La tragedia de Macbeth,” “Macbeth tragédiája,” “Makbeto tragedija,” “Tragedia Makbeta,” See more »
MPA Rating: R-Rating (MPA) for violence.

Reviewed by: David Cook

Moral Rating: Offensive to Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:
Primary Audience: • Adults • Young-Adults
Genre: Dramatic-Thriller Adaptation
Length: 1 hr. 45 min.
Year of Release: 2021
USA Release: September 24, 2021 (festival)
December 25, 2021 (limited)
January 14, 2022 (Apple TV+)
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Relevant Issues
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Brutal film violence

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A Scottish lord who is deceived by 3 witches into believing he will become the next King of Scotland and that he is invincibile

The horrible evil actions of Lord and Lady MacBeth that follow are of their own doing and choosing, not the result of control by the witches

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People actively trying to fulfill the prophecies of witches

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Ambitious wife who shares her husbands greed and lust for seizing power

Temptation in the Bible

How can I deal with temptations to do evil things?

Fictional witches with fantasy supernatural powers

About witches and witchcraft in the Bible

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About murder




About the fall of mankind to worldwide depravity


Learn about spiritual light versus darkness

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Burden of overwhelming GUILT which follows committing severe sins


Descent into madness

What is DEATH? and WHY does it exist? Answer in the Bible

What is the FINAL JUDGMENT? and WHAT do you need to know about it? Answer

What is ETERNAL LIFE? and what does the Bible say about it?


SUICIDE—What does the Bible say? Answer

Other film version of “Macbeth”

Macbeth (2015)

Featuring Denzel WashingtonMacbeth
Frances McDormandLady Macbeth
Alex HassellRoss
Bertie CarvelBanquo
Brendan GleesonDuncan
Corey HawkinsMacduff
Harry MellingMalcolm
Kathryn HunterWitches / Old Man
See all »
Director Joel Coen
Producer Joel Coen
Frances McDormand
See all »
Distributor: A24. Trademark logo.
A24 Films LLC

“Is this a dazzling film which I see before me?” Yes. Yes, it is.

Within two minutes, I was mesmerized by “The Tragedy of Macbeth”—the most recent film adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Directed by Joel Coen—one half of the acclaimed directing duo Coen brothers (“Fargo,” “No Country for Old Men”)—this film lives in an ethereal realm somewhere between the stage of a theater and the silver glow of a movie screen.

Macbeth (Denzel Washington — “Training Day,” “The Equalizer”) is the most respected soldier in 11th century war-torn Scotland. As he returns home with his comrade Banquo (Bertie Carvel—“Doctor Foster: A Woman Scorned”), he encounters three witches. They vow that Macbeth will be promoted to Thane of Cawdor and eventually become king. They also suggest that Banquo’s children will succeed him as king.

Once home, he and Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand — “Fargo,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) plot to assassinate the king. Their plot succeeds, and now they must remove every obstacle in their way that may hinder Macbeth’s rule. He doesn’t want his deeds to pave the way for Banquo’s children, so he must even try to kill his former comrade along with his family. Macbeth grows increasingly confident when the witches make two predictions: 1) he cannot be overthrown unless the forest walks, and 2) no one born of a woman can kill him. This makes Macbeth feel charmed, yet his guilt and shame begin to blur his reality and threaten his reign.

Macbeth’s shame impacted him immediately after he assassinated his king. That guilt leads to one disastrous choice after another. It’s reminiscent of King David. He was a great king, but his sin led to terrible choices that destroyed him from within.

Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
my soul and body with grief.

My life is consumed by anguish
and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,
and my bones grow weak.

Because of all my enemies,
I am the utter contempt of my neighbors
and an object of dread to my closest friends—
those who see me on the street flee from me. —Psalm 31:9-11

In the Psalms, King David calls out for God’s refuge, but in “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” Macbeth’s slow fall into depravity leads to ultimate destruction.

Q & A

About the fall of mankind to worldwide depravity

What is SIN AND WICKEDNESS? Is it just “bad people” that are sinners, or are YOU a sinner? Answer

Are you good enough to get to Heaven? Answer

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This is a fascinating story that has been excellently crafted into a film. Shakespeare’s language has sometimes been difficult for me to follow, but these filmmakers have masterfully used editing, sound, and music in a way that hypnotized me into a state where I could fully grasp every plot, every emotion, and every fear leading to Macbeth’s descent.

The performances are awe-inspiring—specifically the lead performances of Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand. Where their language may confuse me, their emotions kept me cognizant. This is enhanced by the directing decision to use a 4x3 narrow aspect ratio that brings the characters’ faces to the forefront. Their eyes tell me what is happening when the language is beyond me.

In my opinion, this film is truly a masterful achievement.

Content of Concern

That being said, it has elements (aka hurly-burly) that will be offensive to certain sensibilities—as would be the case with any of Shakespeare’s works. There are several moments of extreme violence. Specifically, the king’s assassination is graphic and horrifying both to the characters and to us as the audience. There is some very disturbing language delivered by Lady Macbeth of a sexual and violent manner. Also, the witches are very evil and very frightening—the way they move and speak will haunt certain audience members.

Adding to the brilliance of Shakespeare’s play, Joel Coen has made some creative decisions to strengthen this film adaptation. Particularly, he enhanced the character of Ross—originally a subordinate character. In this film, Ross (Alex Hassell — “Cowboy Bebop”) is a key component to drive the plot. His presence at every major event weighs heavily, and it makes you wonder, “is he fair, or is he foul?”

  • Violence: Very Heavy (and often bloody)— • man stabbed in the throat • beheading in battle with head later displayed • execution by beheading • man’s throat slashed • man stabbed and pushed down stairs • assassins murder people, including a family with children • child thrown from height to his death • war battles • sword fights and stabbings resulting in deaths (man run through with sword) • woman falls to her death
  • Occult: Very Heavy
  • Profane language: Moderate— • “d*mn” (4) • “d*mnation” • “Good God” • “G*d” • Also mentioned are the devil and Beelzebub
  • Vulgar/Crude language: Moderate— • “p*ss” • suggestive sexual hand gestures by a porter talking about lechery • “Unsex me” • “Come to my woman’s breasts and take my milk for gall” • “Birth-strangled babe” • “Pluck out my eyes”
  • Sex: Mild— • Husband/wife kisses and hugs
  • Alcohol/Drugs: Mild— • Drinking • Woman drugs King’s servants to sleep
  • Nudity: Minor— • partial view of man’s bare chest

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive— Transferring Shakespeare to the screen too often meets with mixed results. My favorite has always been Orson Welles’ “Chimes at Midnight,” based on the Henry IV plays, but having just watched “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” I’m not so sure. Despite some flaws—the most notable being that despite strong performances, Washington and McDormand are too old to play the murderously upstart couple—Joel Cohen’s masterful direction, backed by blade-sharp Bauhaus designs, a ghostly German expressionistic visual style, and haunting black and white cinematography, makes this movie a superb achievement as both an adaptation, and as a film in its own right.

Macbeth’s tale has parallels to the times we live in, and emphasizes those comparisons by keeping the drama rooted in its own time when good and evil could be readily determined, and not brushed aside by philosophies of relativism and individualism. “Fair is foul and foul is fair” is one way of saying “there are rules for you and there are rules for me.” Shakespeare reveals how such a topsy-turvy, “hurly-burly” world leads us to a place where “by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.”

Gender roles play a key part in the tragedies of both King Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The king (“too full of the milk of human kindness”) is seduced by supernatural evil (the three witches being an inversion of the three persons represented by God) whereas his wife takes her own steps to reach her desires, steps that lead to hallucinations, nightmares and madness (“Out damned spot, I say”). The scene of her demise at the bottom of a flight of stairs is bracing, and telling. She becomes a man (“turn my mother’s milk to gall”), abandoning her womanhood, in order to do a man’s evil deeds, thus magnifying her tragedy. Her un-sexing is her un-doing.

By accepting the false promises of evil, who disguises himself well, Macbeth concludes that “life is but a walking shadow… a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” His descent has been, and is still today, a morality tale, one whose longevity is the result of having roots in Christian faith and Christian law: “…look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not.” Yes, trees and seeds and growth. Parables live on. In Shakespeare’ time. And in our own. And most surprisingly, in a mainstream film, an imaginative and a distinctive one.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
Jim O'Neill, age 68 (USA)
Positive—I have noticed over the last 20 years or so how Shakespeare films tend to be judged much more harshly by the MPAA, giving films that deserve to be PG a PG-13, films that deserve to be PG-13 an R, etc. This is another case, as this version of Macbeth did not deserve to be rated R in any capacity. The only reason cited is the violence. The violence, however, is entirely in keeping with Shakespeare’s play and, in my mind, is not overly gratuitous in any way. Obviously violence itself is offensive, and it is not right for a Christian to initiate violence against another human being and/or violate that person made in the image of God. But the mere depiction of violence is not something that is, in itself, offensive, anymore than the violence described in the Bible is offensive or immoral. Violence and bloodshed are facts of the world, and the mimetic and/or cinematic portrayal of such realities are not, in themselves, intrinsically good or evil.

Let us not forget that William Shakespeare was a devout Christian, and his plays exhibit this Christian sense of morality and justice, acknowledging the evil in this world resulting from the Fall and the way that, in the words of Edmund Burke, “evil can only triumph when good men do nothing.” In this play, we have a man who is seduced into evil by the infernal suggestion of supernatural beings and sorcery, , and he seeks to commit evil in order to fulfill his own selfish and sinful ends. In contrast, we have a men like Malcolm (the rightful king after his father is slain) and MacDuff (whose family was viciously murdered by Macbeth because of his own moral opposition to Macbeth’s reign). These are men who, upon seeing the evil that is being carried out, finally decide that they can no longer sit idly by. In Shakespeare’s tragedy, evil only triumphs because evil is allowed to continue, and evil is put to a stop when men who realize what is evil put their foot down and, out of a sense of duty to God, country, and family, bring this evil to an end.See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Nathan, age 26 (a Roman Catholic) (USA)

PLEASE share your observations and insights to be posted here.

Secular Movie Critics
…this version is immediately startling in how familiar yet otherworldly it all feels… The whole film has a hallucinogenic quality to it, perfectly suited for the filmmaker’s trademark dark wit… [4/5]
Josh Kupecki, The Austin Chronicle
…Joel Coen solves the problem that curses most adaptations… Instead of any attempt at realism, we get cinematography so sharp and starkly lit that the spaces have a vertiginous quality. …Macbeth takes place in a series of spaces absolutely hostile to human life, spaces in which joy, love, loyalty, and honor could not possibly grow… a blasted heath destroyed by war, a land of paranoia and cold, bloody power games. …
Isaac Butler, Slate
…The three witches who prophesy Macbeth’s fate are reimagined as one “weird sister”. …Kathryn Hunter’s three-in-one witch steals the show as Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand prove too measured as Shakespeare’s murderous couple… [3/5]
Simran Hans, The Observer
…This “Macbeth” adaptation distills Shakespeare’s tragedy to its furious essence… The visuals are as stark and stripped down as the text. …“” has been directed to within an inch of its life, which leeches it of some emotional impact. …
Justin Chang, NPR
…Coen’s straining for seriousness and yearning for importance breaks through to the other side with the howlers of unintentional comedy… Coen’s stripped-down adaptation sets out to normalize Shakespearean language, but he ends up going too far… No current [of chemistry] passes between this Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. They occupy the same room and the same space but not the same movie…
Richard Brody, The New Yorker
…Denzel Washington delivers a noirish nightmare… Disturbingly, there is no sense of what it looks like from the outside: we are always within its Escher-like weirdness, with battlements that can extend infinitely into the fog. …compelling and visually brilliant… This is a black-and-white world of violence and pain that scorches the retina.
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (UK)
…Joel Coen’s Macbeth lacks risk, ingenuity and, most importantly, reward. …surprisingly void of manic emotion… The rigid imagery, coupled with drably subdued performances from the film’s leads, demonstrates an inability to capture an overwrought descent into insanity…
Natalia Keogan, Paste magazine
…With standout performances by stars Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, expert imagery and striking production design, Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is hardly a tale told by an idiot. But it could actually use a little more sound and fury – and a better idea of what it’s supposed to be signifying. …
Stephen Whitty, Screen Daily
…It’s an efficient little film, despite its fussy aesthetics. …But is that enough to justify the revisit? So much of the film plays like a whimsical experiment, a revered filmmaker (working without his brother for the first time) gathering some game actors together to mess around and put on a show. That’s a perfectly fair motivation for making a film; it’s just hard to get very invested in what mostly feels like a lark. …
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair
…Everything about Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is striking and remarkable — except Denzel Washington as Macbeth and Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth. This is not to say that they’re terrible, because they’re not. They’re better than decent. …But neither is quite up for their role nor quite right for it. …
Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle