A Modernized Hero Of Beowulf

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Batman. Spiderman. Superman. These are just a few of the modern-day heroes that children idolize. However, a century ago, these heroes didn’t even exist. The characteristics of a hero are based on the society’s culture and values during a specific time period.

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During the time of the Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf embodied the characteristics of a hero: loyalty and courage. However, in the 2007 film directed by Robert Zemeckis, Beowulf was seen less as a macho hero and more as an ordinary individual that is driven by motivations such as self-reward and finding love in order to be more relatable to modern audiences. Both the film and the poem develop Beowulf’s “macho” persona differently. In the poem, Beowulf flaunts the story of his interaction with “nine sea monsters”. Boasting about his fighting accomplishments, Beowulf progresses to explain that he had to endure “hard ordeals” in the “surging waves, but… eventually survived and came through with his life”. The poem dramatized the encounter with the sea monsters in order to highlight the truly heroic and macho nature of Beowulf. During the Anglo-Saxon time period, these characteristics are sought after in a hero. However, this drastic experience that he had with the sea monster was disproven during the film. In the scene, the directors used a rippling effect in order to portray that the story was enhanced and created by Beowulf’s imagination in order to make himself seem more macho and as a better fighter than Unferth. The director seemed to falsify the story in order to make Beowulf, the hero, more relatable to the audience. In modern times, viewers seek to be able to relate to the main character and understand the character’s personality. Therefore, the director developed Beowulf’s character in a way that subtly hinted at his masculinity. He avoided overtly stating the macho personality of Beowulf, as it was portrayed in the poem since it is difficulty for viewers to relate to such an exaggerated persona.

As a hero in a modern film, Beowulf is driven by self-reward in comparison to the pledge of loyalty to the King that was exemplified in the poem. Throughout the poem, Beowulf was praised by many of the men for his selfless qualities. They would mention that Beowulf “distributed helmets and mail-shirt to men on the mead-benches” and that he would “treat his thanes in hall to the best he could find”. His generosity shows that Beowulf was selfless; he was always willing to put others first and help those in need. In comparison, in the film, Beowulf was focused more on himself and easily give into his desires. He made secret deals with Grendel’s mother and fought several monsters in order to gain fame in his city. The underlying motivations of Beowulf differ in the poem and the film in order to appeal to the intended audience of each work. In modern times, people tend to have a more self-obsessed focus; they want to do what benefits themselves. Therefore, in order to make Beowulf’s character relatable, Robert Zemeckis developed Beowulf as a hero that can indulge in his pleasures as well as gain fame. These characteristics are highly sought after in the modern world.

However, in the poem, loyalty was more sought after than fame (since loyalty would eventually lead you to fame in the Anglo-Saxon time period). A modern film always includes a hero and a love story – in the movie, the relationship between Grendel’s mother and Beowulf was highly dramatized, whereas, in the poem the two only shared feelings of hatred. As written in the poem, Beowulf views Grendel’s mother, the second creature that he fights, as a “monstrous hell-bride” that is “brooded on her wrongs”. Beowulf’s views clearly portray the animosity that he feels towards her. The author goes on to detail the fight scene that unravels between Grendel’s mother and Beowulf. In the scene, the two were wrestling over a sword, which they were hoping to gain ahold of to use to kill the other person. In the poem, this highlights the feelings of bitterness and resentment between Grendel’s mother and Beowulf. However, in the film, the feelings between the two were not purely malicious. When Beowulf goes to visit Grendel’s mother in her cave, his original intent was to kill her. However, when he arrived, he saw how beautiful she was and ended up being involved with her romantically. He gave into her persuading and indulged in a physical relationship with her since she offered him treasure.

The storyline in the film works to create a dramatized love story between the two characters. The need for a love story comes from the preferences of modern viewers. In today’s films, people love watching a romantic story unfold, therefore the director created a love interest for Beowulf so his character could appeal and relate to his audiences. On the other hand, the Anglo-Saxons were more intrigued by fighting scenes than by romance. The character development in both the film and the book are drastically different in order to appeal to the different demographics that each work is targeting. In the film, the director is working to appeal towards a modern audience who like heroes that are not dramatized and are relatable. On the other hand, the poem was targeted towards individuals in the Anglo-Saxon times that believed heroes are meant to pledge their loyalty to their King and be macho. These differences in values among societies ultimately lead to the difference in the character development of Beowulf in the film and the poem.

15 July 2020

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