Jean Luc-Godard’s King Lear (1987) Film is in many ways an example of Hutcheon’s argument in Beginning to Theorize Adaptation that movie adaptations from books can become oversimplifications. It wasn’t that Godard’s film was lacking symbolism or addressing the complex dynamics between characters and the deeper meanings of the main themes during King Lear; it was that the film did not explain the plot clearly, leaving the audience confused and disoriented. Furthermore, I feel that Godard solely focused on the relationship between Cordelia and King Lear, omitting key characters such as Goneril and Regan. I didn’t fully agree with this interpretation. If I hadn’t read King Lear, I would be utterly confused as to what was going on in the film.
As said by Yvonne Griggs, author of Screen Adaptations: Shakespeare’s King Lear: the relationship between Text and Film “Godard’s signature style to introduce layers of intertextual referencing within his films” (158) confuses people. “Godard’s darker purpose has less to do with Shakespeare’s text than with his intent to present an intellectual puzzle which parodies the commercial film industry and interrogates all facets of patriarchal power “(158) Throughout the film, Godard didn’t focus on the plot and interpretation of King Lear. He focused on presenting his own ideas about society. In this way, the film should not be titled King Lear. Furthermore, the medium of film was too confining and constricting for Godard to present his ideas successfully. As a result, the film became too alienating from commercial cinema and it lacks commercial appeal. Sure enough, on Rotten Tomatoes, this film was rated a measly 4.7/10. This film is definitely not directed towards lay-people but for academic audiences.
Godard does, however, pose interesting questions about King Lear as a character. At the beginning of the play, the dialogue professes that “It was not Lear with three daughters, it was Kate with three fathers”, one who played the role of father, one who played the role of star, and one who played the role of director. Perhaps Godard was pointing to the fact that the personalities, of Cordelia (as the father figure), Goneril (as the director) and Regan (as the star) encompassed King Lear’s personality as a whole.
The uncharacteristic music, the chaotic scene cuts, and most of all, the blood curdling screaming of the birds throughout the play, paralleled the insanity throughout King Lear. In one scene, featuring Cordelia, as the narrator professes the paradoxical dialogue of “A violent silence. The silence of Cordelia. Cordelia is not mute, it is not that she has said anything, she has said nothing. But everything conspires and organizes herself around her silence. But wants to silence her silence. This produces violence” the blood curdling shrieks of the birds’ hits its peak and the ominous dark music becomes louder. These effects were used to follow the progression of insanity within this scene. The random and uncharacteristic placement of the music and birds chirping throughout the whole movie almost mimicked the insanity King Lear dwindled to throughout the whole play. As King Lear went insane, the film made the audience go insane as well.
Although Godard does address some interesting themes in King Lear during his film, I feel as a whole, by cutting out key scenes and omitting crucial characters from the movie, he missed the essence of Shakespeare’s message of King Lear.
Do you think Godard was correct in his interpretations of King Lear or were you a little confused as well? Did you think that the bird chirping throughout the movie paralleled insanity as well? Do you think this movie has commercial appeal or could it be written off as an academic text in movie format?