Juliette Binoche on Relating Antigone to Modern Audiences by Playing a "Woman in Control Beyond Men"

News   Juliette Binoche on Relating Antigone to Modern Audiences by Playing a "Woman in Control Beyond Men"
Sophocles' tragic play Antigone first premiered centuries ago but is startingly relevant to present-day politics. Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche weighs in on how the ancient drama speaks to modern-day audiences.


A new adaptation of Sophocles' Antigone, starring Academy Award winner and Tony Award nominee Juliette Binoche, last seen at the Edinburgh International Festival, and before that in London from the Barbican, plays at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the 2015 Next Wave Festival.

Translated by poet and MacArthur Fellow, Anne Carson, Binoche calls Carson's text "modern, but poetic." Olivier Award winner Ivo van Hove directs a cast that also includes Obi Abili, Kirsty Bushell, Samuel Edward-Cook, Finbar Lynch, Patrick O'Kane, Kathryn Pogson and Toby Gordon.

In her Edinburgh International Festival debut, Binoche played title character, a role she was first attracted to after seeing the play when she was 18 years old, when the themes of consciousness and politics were printed into her mind.

Juliette Binoche
Juliette Binoche

At the open, a civil war has just ended in Thebes. Antigone's brother, Polyneices and Eteocles are both killed in battle. But Kreon, Antigone's uncle and the new ruler of Thebes, rules that only Eteocles be properly and honorably buried, while Polyneices, called a traitor, remain uncovered, beyond the city walls. Antigone goes against Kreon's order, burying Polyneices. The consequence, though, is her life. Juliette Binoche has appeared in over 40 films, including Anthony Minghella's "The English Patient" (1996), for which she won an Academy Award and a BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress. In 2000 she starred on Broadway in the first revival of Harold Pinter's Betrayal, receiving a Tony nomination for her performance. 

Binoche said she relates to Antigone's boldness even when the stakes are so high and the consequences so grave; she is conflicted between the desires of her head and heart.

Antigone's decision stems from, in part, that she is in touch with her intuition and her heart, Binoche says, and that she "has to have consciousness."

Obi Abili, Juliette Binoche and Patrick O'Kane
Obi Abili, Juliette Binoche and Patrick O'Kane

And although Antigone may be a classic Greek tragedy, it deals with issues still very prevalent today, such as the treatment of criminals. Binoche relates Kreon's opposing decision of how to bury Antigone's brothers to the Jan. 9 attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, in which 17 people were killed. One of the gunmen, Saïd Kouachi, was buried secretly, the following week of the attack, after dark in an unmarked grave in the eastern French city, Reims, French officials said, as reported by the U.K. newspaper, The Telegraph.

However, the mayor of Reims, Arnaud Robinet did not initially want to bury Kouachi in Reims. "The government reminded me of my obligation (to allow the burial) under the legislation," Robinet said in The Telegraph. French law states the right to be buried in the place of last residence.

Burying Polyneices, Antigone argues, is also a case of human rights, according to Binoche. She drew inspiration for the role through such "people against the law," as the late Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, "who suffered 27 years for evolution." Mandela fought to bring an end to apartheid in South Africa and was imprisoned for decades because of his efforts.

Also difficult for Antigone are Kreon's gender politics. Kreon won't "bested by a woman," Binoche says. Kreon is frightened by his feminine side, by his "heart side." However, Binoche says women also feel this way, because they are afraid of being emotional. And so Antigone, in burying her brother and therefore sacrificing her life, completely understands her choice and makes her actions visible, Binoche says. It's about "letting go of everything and being in touch with consciousness."

Antigone, Binoche says, is a "woman in control beyond men."

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