When I stepped into the theater on Tuesday, I felt calm and confident that I would be seeing a film that would instantly become one of my favorites of all time. I was not disappointed.
I sat slack jawed as the opening scene of Gandalf battling the Balrog took on a new dimension. It was an appalling and amazing vision of the Maia and the Valaraukar falling endlessly in a battle of sword and flame and finally plunging into deep water. For me this scene set up the theme of the entire film. Each facet of the shattered Fellowship has its own burden and its own story that it must travel through.
Sam and Frodo are struggling with swamps, Black Gates, Faramir and insanity. Insanity that manifested itself overtly and externally in the person of Gollum, and internally in the ever faltering will of Frodo to resist the ring. There is the journey of the three companions and their long trek across the Riddermark who instead of rescuing two little hobbits, release a king from enslavement and a people from annihilation. This is not “The Fellowship of the Ring”, the fellowship was indeed broken. And yet each splinter was attempting to do good in its own fashion.
This disharmony and urge to do “good” came through for me most poignantly through Gollum. Here is a tortured soul who has spent his own endless time under the Misty Mountains. He is a fractured fellowship in one person. Smeagol wants to do good, he wants no more of the ring or lies or hurting. His alter ego, Gollum, wants the ring at any cost. They operate odds with each other. I felt Frodo’s sympathy and terror as he looked into Gollum’s large blue eyes with his own large blue eyes and saw there not a monster, but a terribly tortured childlike soul. I never envisioned Gollum like this before, but the humanity that is emphasized in this vision of him does the character a great justice.
To the west and across the plains sat Theoden on the Throne of Rohan. Confused and poisoned in mind and body he is no longer a leader but the puppet of his evil advisor, the loathsome and pitiful Grima. His speech to Eowyn concerning here dark watches was pure magic. She wants to take comfort in his words, but she casts him off and tells him that his words are poison. And though he is angry that she has left I felt that he looked a bit surprised as if he didn’t wholly realize that he was a liar and a manipulator.
In the book, Eowyn pines for lord Aragorn and he looks at her as if she were a high and good woman, but not quite of his quality. He never wavers in his devotion to Arwen, and Arwen never wavers in her devotion to him. The film casts the light on this triangle a bit differently. Aragorn feels guilty about his love for Arwen. He even lies to her (and himself) and says that their love was only a dream. He does not feel worthy of being selfish enough to take her away from her people and the undying lands He begins to look at Eowyn as a worthy companion for himself.
Arwen for her part is very devoted to Aragorn, yet she cannot escape the dark truth of the future that her father envisions. She falters and decides to join her people on the journey to Valinor. When Aragorn nearly dies, he is emboldened and gladly takes the Evenstar from Legolas who had it in safekeeping, showing his renewed devotion for his only Queen. When Eowyn sees him reclaim the jewel she falters and stops. She was about to embrace him and possibly declare her love, now she knows that love will never be returned. These people are all trying to do good for themselves and each other in their own clumsy, and real ways.
The King, when exorcised, manifests into one of the best performances of the film. I feel that if Bernard Hill isn’t nominated for a best supporting actor award he has been done a great disservice. His grief at the death of his son, Theodred, is real and painful to see. When Aragorn councils him to send to Gondor for aid when the people of Rohan are beset by the forces of Isengard he responds: “Where was Gondor when the West Fold fell? Where was Gondor when our enemies encircled us? Where was Gondor….” And he bites off the rest painfully. But you know that he was going to say “When Theodred fell?” At dawn, when it appears that the battle is lost he begins to despair, yet roused by Aragorn he decides to ride into battle suicidally for “Blood and Glory.” And Aragorn dissents and says “For the people of Rohan.” Again the urge to do good is shaken and yet it prevails in the end.
Faramir must battle with himself to become good. In the book, he is unequivocally good, in the film it isn’t as easy for him. Only when he sees that there can be no good use for the ring, does he agree to allow Frodo to destroy it.
The people in this movie are real people with real weaknesses, and real strengths. I am in awe of Peter Jackson and crew and feel that as the screen dims on green Ithilien and fiery Mordor beyond that this will be a long year of waiting.