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Medeas grief-stricken story has been transformed into various films, musical performances, operas, art, poetry, writing, and drama. Although each story is to some extent different, the plot remains primarily analogous among each account. Jason has settled with, Medea, his Colchian wife, after his adventure in quest of the Golden Fleece, an uncommon article of clothing made from the wool of a magical flying ram in Greek mythology (Hunter 2011). Medea is instilled with grief and rage after she learns that her husband Jason will marry the daughter of the local king, Creon. Medea, devastated when hearing the news, was enraged because she aided Jason in his exploits, even killing her own brother to help Jason escape. In return for the heartache that Jason has caused, Medea plans a scheme to kill Glauce, Jason’s new wife. She then kills her two sons in order to avenge Jason’s decision. With that known, this paper will focus on three different accounts of Medea’s story. First, I will introduce Medea’s role in the film, “Medea” by Lars von Trier. Then I will introduce Medea’s role in Jason and the Argonauts, a 1963 film produced by Columbia Pictures, which depicts Medea completely in opposition to Lars von Trier. Ultimately, this paper is intended to demonstrate how these cinematic supplements aid our understanding of Medea’s plot first introduced by Euripides. I will however, make comparison and as well as not the dissimilarities between all three accounts of Medea.
Lars Von Triers Medea
In Von Trier’s adaptation of Medea, Medea is seen as an oracle in her own country, but is a feared foreign heretic in Greece. Medea, set on revenge, persuades King Creon to give her one more day before her exile, for the sake of her children. Dark foreshadowing emerges as Medea sends her children to Glauce with a gift that is secretly poisoned. With the intention of destroying Jason completely, she further resolves to take the lives of his two heirs, her own two children, in a painful exhibition of filicide. Glauce’s power is in her beauty, innocence and youth-all attributes that Medea has lost touch of. More handsome than beautiful, Medea, as Lars Von Trier has depicted her, is the antithesis of atypical femininity; Opposite of Jason and the Argonauts film depiction which I will mention later in this paper.
Each scene directed by Von Trier has been recast from Euripides play. However, there are various differences that are recognizable. For one, it is obvious that von Trier improves on Euripides play; however, he does use more visual narratives to relay Medea’s story such as the usage of audios and imageries whereas Euripides has a chorus. More so, Jason’s virgin new bride Glauce, given a name and a voice, becomes a central character, unlike Euripides original play where she is barely present.
Opposite of Euripides account of Medea, Von Trier uses cinematic techniques to grasp the audience’s attention. In Euripides account of Medea, it is much more difficult to get an actual visual interpretation of the events taking place. With Von Trier’s Medea, he uses special cinematic effects to engage the audience in each scene to a greater extent that Euripides can. Von Trier effectively turns this proto-feminist film into a portrayal of female martyrdom and suffering. Every composition is specific, sensationally illustrating every character.
It is clear that Von Trier preserves Euripides basic story line. However, he does use different cinematic techniques to add more depth to each character, as well as stimulate more action. For instance, in Euripides, Medea stabs her sons whereas in Von Trier’s Medea, she hangs her sons. This is just a cinematic technique where Von Trier uses a different approach to add action to the scene. In the play, the audience does not witness the death of the two young boys. Rather, the audience only hears harsh cries which conclude the scene. Von Trier allows the audience to accept the realization of such a dramatic scene. We are able to grasp exactly what it is that Medea has done. Stabbing works well in plays because it is a rapid way to portray a death scene. The act of hanging her sons, allows us to experience a twofold killing as well as understand Medea’s distressing decision.
Von Trier uses colors to differentiate the characters. He uses black and white costuming as visual symbols. Medea, who is now Jason’s angry first bride, is always depicted in black. Although Medea is often identified as a sorceress or witch, the black garb signifies her desolation and melancholy not sourcery. Barely do we see any area of her body uncovered until after the death of her two children where she removes her head cap and lets her hair hang down freely. Throughout the film, Medea’s black garb is similar to the skin of a sea mammal, linking her affinity to the water(CITE). Likewise, Von Trier incorporates many scenes where Medea emerges from water, is rescued from the water, or has meeting standing near or by the water. In stark opposition, Glauce, Jason’s new bride, is always portrayed in white. Glauce is always exposed as radiace with a shining glow with a luminous light casted upon her face. Unlike Medea, Glauce’s hair hangs down long and freely. She is the epitome of who every man in Greek antiquity would wish to marry.
Both Euripides and Lars von Trier, put special emphasis on the aspects of gender and politics that are also at the heart of Euripides’ play. He portrays a strong, isolated female who has to face an existential conflict in a patriarchal society, and who meets this conflict by transgressing her conventional role and refusing the political sacrifice that is requested from her. This becomes clear in the first scene of the film which shows Medea, her eyes closed, lying on the back on a beach and being gradually inundated by the waves of the sea. The camera filming her from above begins to rotate, first slowly, then faster and faster, thus signaling that Medea’s world has turned upside down, that she has lost all sense of direction. When it stands still again, the viewer is confronted with a long-held shot of a large, deep expanse of water with Medea gone. After a painfully long silence she suddenly emerges from beneath and is seen standing, dressed all in black, in the midst of the sea – a powerful image depicted by both Euripides and Von Trier.
The interior scenes are dramatically choreographed sets of chiaroscuro which are made by using several shades of the same color. For example, the shadows in the flickering light, due to the method of chiaroscuro, may play a more prominent role than the characters. Jason and Glauce’s newlywed chamber is completely housed in a maze of white cloth, dramatically backlit so silhouettes float back and forth. When Glauce tells Jason that she will not sleep with him until Medea is no longer in the country, Jason is forced to lie next to the shadow of Glauce that is cast on the translucent fabric that separates them.
Medea eventually flees. Having successfully poisoned Glauce and murdered her own children, Medea leaves Jason in a state of insanity. The camera is trained on Medea and her detached face while riding on the ship to exile. As the sail is dropped, it briefly flaps in front of the camera, obscuring Medea from the screen. The next time Medea is shown, she is sitting with her cap off with her long hair falling over her shoulders and her emotions completely exposing her vulnerability. Suddenly, we can witness a sense of Medea sadness. A feminized, maternal, saddened, pain stricken mother is depicted on screen. This scene may come as a shock to the audience because this is the first time Medea is revealed as remorseful or nevertheless, humane.
Comparably, just like in Euripides, Medea struggles with women’s position in society. Medea often struggles with this concept. Medea questions aloud, “Why must women bear so much? What rights have women?” And for a brief moment, it seems the film might actually be concerned with these questions. Yet according to Von Trier’s depiction, a woman’s right to revenge is more important.
Jason and the Argonauts
The last film up for discussion is Jason and the Argonauts, a 1963 film produced by Don Chaffey, which opposite of Euripides and Von Trier’s film adaptation of Medea, presents Medea in a different respect. Medea is an unbelievably beautiful shipwrecked, damsel in distress whose character develops no further than that. From my knowledge, Medea is portrayed so beautifully because Aphrodite gets her son Eros to strike Medea, so that she will fall in love with Jason and help him to accomplish his task of retrieving the Golden Fleece. Before she does so, however, she makes Jason promise to love her and cherish her forever.
Contrarily, this introductory scene challenges both Euripides and Von Trier’s depiction of Medea. Medea is introduced into the film as needing the help of a man. For the few scenes that Medea is in, her character develops no further. She is simply depicted as the helpless female epitome who continues for the remainder of the film as her biggest contributions to the protagonists’ success in the original story are completely omitted. In the movie, Medea sits back to watch Jason win the fleece on his own, opposite of the plot of Von Trier’s plot in Medea.
Furthermore, when Medea is introduced in the first scene while speaking to Jason, she is wearing a white gown which appears to be a sheer-like transparent cloth. Her makeup is beautifully placed without a drop of mascara running down her face. She is stunningly beautiful; quite opposite of the image shown on Euripides cover, or the way Von Trier depicts Medea in his film. Although she is not married to Jason when she is introduced in the first scene, her image is similar to Glauce’s; an object of desire. The sun is shining upon her as she lies upon the ship. Her hair is hanging down freely. She appears just as Glauce does: The epitome of what any man would wish to marry in Greek society.
Comparably, just like Euripies account of Medea, both Lars Von Treier and Chaffey’s film adaptation portray Medea as a princess from the “barbarian”, or non-Greek land of Colchis. It is a clear point that Medea lives very differently from Greek standards. She is an outsider; a foreigner. In the end, we can see that Medea’s barbarian origins were a major factor in each account, and that Medea was no ordinary woman in Greek terms.
To bring this paper to a close, my intentions were to examine two accounts of Medea; Lars Von Trier’s, Medea, and Chaffey’s 1963 version of Jason and the Argonauts. It is concluded that there are many obvious similarities as well as dissimilarities between both Euripides play and Von Trier’s film adaptation. However, Chaffey’s film is primarily in opposition to both narratives of Medea. She is simply depicted as opposite of what Euripides and Von Trier demonstrate. Although there are some discrepancies among all three accounts, it is definite that Von Trier and Euripides exemplified the cause and effect of powerful human emotions. Medea is a woman of extreme behavior and emotion. The power of passion, rage, revenge and pride are all felt through the actions of Medea’s character yet in Jason and the Argonauts, we do not see Medea in this light.
Generally, women in Greek society had little to no rights. Their purpose on society was to maintain the home, cook, clean, and most importantly, bear children. Voting was not a right for women nor could they own property. In regards to marriage, women could not choose their spouse. Their husband was chosen for them. In some ways, women were similar to slaves. In Euripides Medea, there is a clear element displaying the subordination of women. It was not until Jason decided that he wanted a divorce to marry the princess of Corinth, Glauce. By Jason starting a new marriage with Glauce, the princess of Corinth, Medea would be casted aside for good. Although this was a common occurrence in Greek society, it just shows the subordination of women who ultimately had no say in such decisions.
Euripides seemed to show interest of women and the contradictions of the Greek sex-gender system. Medea’s opening speech to the Chorus is a bold statement about the injustices that fall upon women. Medea’s actions were not typical of the average Greek woman, but were typical among women in general. For instance, In Euripides play, Medea verbalizes her idea of women’s status in society, proclaiming that that have no word in regard to whom they will marry, nor do they have any control of a man leaving them for another woman.
“We women have the worst lot. First we have to buy a husband at a vast expense, And- to make the bargain more painful- what we buy is someone to lot it over our body. Divorce is not respectable for women and we may not refuse our husband. When the man is tired of the company at home, he can go out and end his discontent (Euripides 220-254).”
What is more, Euripides also recognizes that the position of women, and their subordination to men, is inextricable from the very heart of social order in Greece. Greek society functions according to injustice. At the same time, Medea is not exactly a feminist representative. This is quite the contrary of Von Trier’s film Medea, which I will discuss in greater detail further along in this paper. Euripides identifies the difficulties that women must bear, but he does not give us lackadaisical virgin heroines. He gives us real women, who have suffered and became tremendously affected by their suffering. What we see is not a story of female liberation, but a war between the sexes.
Euripides emphasizes Medea’s cunning and cleverness. However, it is these traits that cause much suffering for Medea. This theme is linked to the theme of pride and the theme of woman’s position. Medea tells Creon that it is better to be born stupid, for men despise the clever. The Greeks, though they have some respect for her, often treat her as subordinate because of her gender and her barbarian origins. Aristotle considered the “unscrupulously clever” woman so distasteful as to be a subject unfit for drama; his statement reflects typically Greek attitudes (Stone 2008).
Because she is an outsider to normal order, she behaves without limitations, lacking any control or morality. Medea is despised for talents that should win her praise. Overall, Medea has some of the makings of an epic hero, but Euripides distorts and dislocates these traits, twisting some of the conventions of his art.
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