Following the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City’s Twin Towers, America and the world seemed to shift in and out of focus as people and governments grappled with the unreality of this very real event. Artists, too, sought ways to express the angst and confusion of the attack itself, as well as the debate over the sometimes controversial steps taken both to protect and avenge in its aftermath.
Among these artistic responses we find an unusual number of treatments of the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf appearing, particularly between 2005 and 2007. This article focuses on one of those productions, Sturla Gunnarsson’s 2006 film “Beowulf & Grendel,” starring Gerard Butler, tracing the ways this adaptation of the poem captures the essence of the original text while questioning the origin and nature of violence, heroism, and honor; the danger in demonizing the ‘other’; and the proper exercise of power in a society marked by random violence. Given the ruptured social and political climate post-9/11, it is perhaps not surprising that Gunnarsson and screenwriter Andrew Rai Berzin turned to a classic poem involving monsters, heroes, violence, and death to explore the complicated relationships among these issues evident both in the 10th and 21st centuries.