Euripides’ Medea puts up a very strange and ambiguous idea of morality and justice. Even though Medea commits horrendous crimes we are made to question who exactly is the villain in the play. It makes us question the set patterns of justice. She is a witch who to some may only have lured her husband to herself through witchcraft, however because of the dramatic action that is taking place one is continuously forced to think about the other side of the story. Isn’t Medea being driven to do what she does? Wouldn’t most people simply collapse if they were made to suffer the way she was, losing her husband her family and being driven out of the country. She is the one who made Jason into the powerful man he is not the other way around, without Madea he would have been able to gain nothing yet when the opportunity for gaining the crown presents itself and he needs to put his wife aside for Glauce he readily accepts the offer. To me it is Jason who is probably the person who had the bigger fault.
As for holding our attention all these centuries, the answer for this question is simply that the story of this myth/play is different and more complex. It shows in both Jason and Medea the crueler side of humanity. How power and revenge can drive one to heinous crimes. Jason who selfishly throws aside his wife to whom he throws everything and Medea who in order to destroy Jason kills not only his new wife but also their children in spite of the fact that she loves them just as much as Jason does. However still I feel that Madea’s final actions are justified because she lost everything that mattered to her and she wanted Jason to feel the same way as well.
The play constructs Madea and her land and the natives as the other. The other as always is constructed as the exotic land with strange rituals which are appealing yet barbaric at the same time. It is because of this construction of Medea that the reader has no difficulty writing her off as a savage barbarian who kills her family. The reader doesn’t pause to think of the countless emotional traumas that were inflicted upon her which caused her to carry out the crimes that she did.
Part 2: Lars Von Trier
Lars Von Trier’s adaptation of the myth of Medea is one of the most famous film adaptations of the Greek Myth. In the original play Medea is a witch and an enchantress who falls in love with Jason and thus agrees to help him gain his Golden Fleece, the adaptation by Von Trier follows the same storyline and is deeply rooted in feminism and persuades the viewer to instead of viewing Medea with contempt instead feel her pain and even sympathize with her plight. While experiencing the pain that she is some of the questions that Madea asks and forces the viewers to ask themselves are “Why do women bear so much?” For a moment the viewer may believe that these are some of the actual questions that are being posed by the filmmaker through this interpretation of the play and the myth which even though portrays Madea as a monster but also in some ways makes the audience relate with her. However, this belief is strongly shaken when Madea’s first victim is Glauce another woman.
Some people may see this as an attempt by Von Trier to in a way change the previously building up feminist sentiment but to me somehow this seems as still as a victory for women because Madea still gets revenge over the people who destroyed her. Rather than being a question of feminism it simply seems a question of justice even though ultimately Madea is an oppressor but if she had not done what she does she would be a passive victim of oppression and no better than the vapid heroines of today’s soap operas.
More than the story however which is well known to most people who have an interest in literature what makes Von Trier’s adaptation so powerful is none other than his powers of direction. The landscape is dreary and that lends the film character and in a way is a visual representative of Madea’s feelings and emotions. Because the film is low budget the quality of recordings etc isn’t very high however Von Trier makes this his biggest strength and using soft focus and a photographic style creates a visual world which makes the whole experience of watching this film even more realistic in the sense that one is able to feel Madea’s emotions because the visual fits so well with them. The lack of dialogue means that the visual and emotions gel in together even better and one is allowed to see and feel the impending sense of tragedy in the shots of the movie. The cinematography helps each character to be brought to the forefront. Scenes like the one of Jason and Glauce’s wedding night is in particular beautifully done. The set is draped with white cloth and when Glauce refuses to sleep with her husband till Madea is out of country and he is forced to lie next to her shadow with only a white curtain between them it in a way symbolizes the sexual torment he is going through.
Part 2: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Like Lars Von Trier uses a contrast of imagery and camera techniques to carry on the magic of the myth in his version of Madea, the director Pier Paolo Pasolini does the sam thing however he modifies Euripides play which is quite sympathetic to the plight of women in ancient Greece and portrays Medea as someone who is lead to the horrors which she eventually carries out rather than someone who is someone simply crazy enough to commit them. Indeed Jason’s association with Argonauts and then them being shown as mainly atheists and pragmatists while Madea is the religious fanatic who is insane shows the basically unkind portrayal of women by Pasolini which is quite in contrast with the real play and also Von Trier’s adaptation.
Moreover in order to show the Madea’s insanity some of the scenes become too gruesome and to bloody. A lot of the movie strongly hints of Pasolini’s rejection of the idea of religion. Many of the points being made portray, Madea as the religious women who is basically insane and Jason the pragmatist and the victim. The lack of dialogue in the film also kills some of the elements that lend a touch of humanism to Madea, this kills of a lot of what would have otherwise made the movie more powerful. For example the scene in which she is about to kill her children and is rocking them too sleep does show some of the love she has for them. However, it fails to show fully the dilemma of the woman who is deeply in love with her family yet is in a way being forced to do this. Without the dialogue one doesn’t understand what is potentially going on in her head. People not familiar with the text of the play simply think of her as a crazy woman who is about to commit a wild murder rather than see this act as an act of desperation which it is originally intended to be.
Pasolini’s version of the play rather seems to be a hate tirade against religion and religious fanaticism. His interpretation of the myth is perhaps a translation of his own leftist ideas and could even be an allegory for something that goes deeper than just the myth of Madea. One of the most powerful sequences of the film and perhaps one of the most brutal and ruthless is the one in which the people of Colchis sacrifice a young man and then run through the city smearing his blood on the grounds the plants and the trees in order for their land to be fertile continually. This brutish act basically is too show the viewer what kind of a society produced Madea and helps one in the end understand how she could murder her children and her husband’s second wife in cold blood and psychologically destroy her husband. It depicts in a way the lengths to which Colchis/Madea will go in order to protect what is theirs. It also signifies the directors own belief that religion leads to acts of brutality.
Part 3: Comparison and Contrast of the three version of the Myth of Madea
We see some striking differences and similarities between the original version of the play as well as the two adaptations that have been discussed here before. However, one does see that that Lars Von Trier version has more similarities with the original myth and the Euripides version. The original play is rather morally ambiguous and is more adept at showing both sides of the picture and explains in depth how Madea is both the oppressor and the oppressor. The two film adaptations however take sides. The Von Trier version successfully brings out the feminist side of the whole argument and makes the viewer sympathize with Madea’s plight. The Pasolini version on the other hand dehumanizes Madea, there is no room for sympathy. She is showcased and portrayed as a psychotic fanatic incapable of feelings. Even he places where one can see the human side of Madea coming to the forefront for example in the scene when she rocks her children to sleep before murdering them, rather than it being shown objectively in a way which shows the inner conflict of the central character the scene is shot without dialogues in a way that one just writes Madea of as a crazy person who should have been locked up in an asylum.
The contradicting ways in which the character of Madea is portrayed also shows a difference in the moral values of the three stories. Whereas the original play is mostly morally ambiguous and doesn’t really let the reader or the theatre go-er really take sides with or against Madea the two other adaptations do so. This shows perhaps in a way the changing aqttitud3es over time. The Pasolini version is from 1969, Pasolini himself was a strong Communist and a supporter of the LGBT community and this shows that he probably had extremely liberal ideas in regard to religion which we can clearly see in his portrayal of religion and atheism. The Von Trier version portrays the story through a largely feminist perspective. Madea isn’t shown in as unkind a light as she has been previously and one is more inclined to believe that she is lead to her final actions. It brings out the idea of “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
We also see contrasts in storytelling within the three versions of the myth. The Pasolini version obviously seems to use blood and gore in order to get the message across and convey the power of some of the story. The Von Trier version uses cinematic elements etc to add strength to his storyline. Both versions use a lack of dialogue as a tool and the main tools are cinematography etc.
The flow away from dialogue to use of cinematic tools show how story telling has evolved over the ages through the years and technology has replaced the need for such devices. This also highlights the differences between the medium of film and theatre. Obviously since during a live performance such tools cannot be used theatre will need to rely on dialogue, expressions and at the most musical scores. Film can however use a multiplicity of tools to convey the message it wants. As there is more technological process happens more and more special effects can be added to the already long list of effects being used in films today.
One of the things that struck me the most when I compared the three versions particularly the two movies was how in terms of the feminist perspective the world has come full circle. The Greek version is incidentally the one which is probably the kindest to Medea and gives the most accurate portrayal of her plight and does not condemn her as a sorceress etc. It highlights the very real problems that were experienced by women in that time period. However the Pasolini version seems to be a total tirade of the dominant patriarchal discourse. In the Greek version Jason owes everything in terms of power to Medea without him he would never be able to carry out the Kings tasks. In Pasolini’s version however Medea only believes that she is useful and is helping Jason through her magic when she isn’t. In the Greek version Jason comesacross as very ungrateful but the Pasolini version paints him in a new very favorable light. The last version of Von Trier again paints Medea in a more humanistic light and sort of encourages the viewer to sympathize with her because it shows the both sides of the picture. Her utter helplessness and feelings of loss and abandonment lead her to her ultimate actions in this version. He even in a way justifies her actions and makes the reader truly understand her reasons through her monologue.
The three versions show how the changes in world vision etc have influenced story telling over the ages. In spite of being based on the same myth the three versions are much different because they have been interpreted by different people living in different times. This basically reflects on the theme of mutability which we have discussed throughout the course. Not only does the same myth with the same central characters change and have a different moral view every time it is retold but it also in spite of the similarities becomes a totally different story. One version tells the story of a woman who has been wronged and the other tells the story of a woman who believes so much in her self-importance that she ends up destroying her whole family. The changing times have a lot to do with this concept of mutability. The Pasolini version was made during the time when there was little freedom for women, things were still very patriarchal and women did not have a great role in society at the forefront and were probably still trying to break out of the 50’s mindset. Perhaps this is why Pasolini ends up giving such a harsh portrayal of Medea who because of her power etc is ultimately stronger than Jason. We can easily see the changing times with the changing of the versions.
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