What are the differences between the Beowulf movie and poem?

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Unfortunately, you would be better off asking what similarities exist between the epic, Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf and movies that have been made supposedly telling the same story.  Why?  Because the answer would be much shorter. 

If you're referring to the latest theatrical version released (that I know of, anyway), the animated version, a hero named Beowulf does kill Grendel.  That's pretty much where the similarities end.

As far as the differences, here are some of the main ones:

  • Beowulf is not Grendel's father.  In the poem, Grendel is born of the cursed descendants of Cain and in slime.
  • Grendel's mother does not look like Angelina Jolie.
  • Grendel's mother is not a shape shifter. 
  • Beowulf and Grendel's mother never have sex.  Grendel's mother is a monster the same as Grendel is. 

Unfortunately, movie makers have never made a movie even remotely resembling the epic poem.  The story in the poem has been liberally borrowed from numerous times.  The Thirteenth Warrior, for instance, focuses on a warrior journeying to a troubled spot to aid the locals.  But nothing thus far produced seems to even be an attempt to actually relate the story of Beowulf and Grendel. 

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There have been many filmatic adaptations of the epic tale Beowulf. Here are the following adaptations of the epic:

  • Grendel, Grendel, Grendel (1981)
  • Beowulf (1999)
  • Beowulf and Grendel (2005)
  • Grendel (2007 made of television movie)
  • Beowulf (2007)
  • Beowulf: Prince of the Geats (2008)

Perhaps the most commonly used adaptation is the 2007 film featuring Angelina Jolie and produced by Robert Zemeckis. This film is very different from the epic tale.

In the 2007 filmatic adaptation, the idea of light and dark are swapped from that of the movie. Angelina Jolie, who portrays Grendel's mother, is depicted in golden light, much unlike the creature who lives in the hell-like lair in the original text. Beowulf, in the same way, is "altered." Beowulf is not the warrior for God as he is in the epic text. Instead, he commits covets Hrothgar's wife and is depicted as a dark character (as a "dark wolf" if I am not mistaken).

Next, the idea of Christian and Pagan ideology is different. In the text, Hrothgar celebrates God. He even built Heorot to celebrate God's power. In the film though, Hrothgar denounces Christianity. He states that he would rather stay Pagan as his ancestors were.

As for another adaptation, the 2005 version called Beowulf and Grendel, Grendel is not a monster. Instead, he is a child whose family has been murdered. Grendel is after revenge. In the text, Grendel is angry because he is in exile because of his ancestor's sin, not his own.

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What are some differences in the characters of Grendel, Beowulf, and Hrothgar in Beowulf the poem and the Beowulf movie?

Beowulf the poem and Beowulf the movie (the 2007 adaptation by Robert Zemeckis) differ greatly when it comes to the characterizations of Beowulf, Grendel, and Hrothgar. In a sense, the movie changes the characters so much that one would not recognize the characters in the epic itself.

Beowulf

In the poem, Beowulf is Christian, humble, and an eloquent speaker. He gives his victories over to God, praises God openly, and speaks as a leader should. He leads a chaste life, focusing upon being the best warrior and king he can be. Given his faith, Beowulf lives a life spent in the light of God.

In the movie, Beowulf is far from humble. He screams of his victory by announcing "I am Beowulf!," not giving the glory of the victory to God. This also shows his lack of humility. In the movie, Beowulf has two affairs--one with Hrothgar's wife (Wealtheow) and one with a servant of Wealtheow (after they have married). This does not speak of living a chaste life. Lastly, Beowulf is characterized as living in shadow (he is given the nickname the Dark Wolf by Grendel's mother). Grendel's mother is even shown a possessing light, while Beowulf is shadowed in darkness (a distinct twist of the poem's use of light and dark).

Grendel

In both the movie and the poem, Grendel is portrayed as the villain. This said, the poem explains his current state as being linked to his exile from God's light. The movie, on the other hand, fails to show this fact. The poem shows Grendel's attack on Heorot as the result of Grendel's hatred for God. The movie depicts his attack as the result of an infected ear drum (which the people's singing hurts). While somewhat similar (given the singing acts as a trigger in both the poem and the movie), the Christian perspective is removed from the movie. 

Hrothgar

In the poem, Hrothgar is a Christian. His praise of God is so great that he even builds Heorot to praise his lord. Hrothgar proves to be a very good king who follows the true Anglo-Saxon code.

In the movie, Hrothgar fails to come close to the character portrayed in the poem. In the movie, Hrothgar openly denounces God (stating that he and his kingdom will stay Pagan). Hrothgar is also portrayed as a drunk in the movie. He fails to be a good husband (leading his wife into the hands of Beowulf) and commits suicide.

The link below shows the movie version of Beowulf "introducing" himself to Grendel. Notice how he states that he is the "chief of the darkness" (contrasting the image of light he should possess according to the poem).

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