Friday, December 19, 2003

More thoughts on The Return of the King:

In a particularly poignant moment, Pippin, at Lord Denethor's command, sings a folksy ballad. As Pippin sings his plaintive, mournful song, Jackson intersperses scenes of Pippin singing and Faramir's battle scenes. Jackson, much to his credit, doesn't show us the gory end of the death of Faramir's army of twenty or so men facing off the Orcish army of thousands. Instead, just as the archers release their deadly hail of arrows, he cuts to the hall of Minas Tirith, to Denethor messily consuming his meal without even a smidgen of care or concern about the suicide mission he has sent his only surviving son on, so that we are left with the agony of knowing, without seeing, the pointless, senseless death of that band of good men, instead of having their demise shoved in our faces.

Ian McKellen is excellent in his portrayal of Gandalf as the general of Minas Tirith. He has convincing sceen presence and one can feel the determination to protect his charge - the race of man - emanating from him. He is commanding and awe-inspiring, both in the way he barks out orders to the soldiers, and in the way he wields his staff. With this kind of charisma, it's obvious to see why every other character in the movie looks to Gandalf whenever they're in trouble.

As mentioned in yesterday's post, the true mettle of Aragorn is clearly and nicely shown in this movie. While establishing the character of the man who should be king, the relationship between Aragorn and Eowyn is also rather neatly tied up, but more on that later. Elrond, the elven ruler, arrives at the encampment of the Riders of Rohan and informs him that Arwen lies dying - why and of what, I am not entirely certain (and as it turns out, not many other people know either) but I think it's related to the re-making of the sword of Isildur. Elrond advises him to "put aside the ranger from the north. Become who you were born to be." Bestowing upon him the sword that was broken by Sauron many many years ago, he declares (rather pompously, I feel, but elves will be elves), "I give hope to men." Aragorn accepts the sword - and in doing so, his birthright and destiny - and quietly replies, "I keep none for myself."

As Aragorn prepares to go off to seek the undead army, Eowyn tells him that he cannot abandon the people of Rohan, not now, not on the eve before they ride to the aid of Minas Tirith. "Why have you come?" he asks her. "Do you not know?" She responds, her heart in her eyes. "It is but a shadow and a thought that you love," says Aragorn. "I cannot give you what you seek." And with those words, Aragorn breaks her heart. But you led her on, Aragorn. It was all you! I felt like yelling. Still, much to her credit, Eowyn doesn't give in to heartbreak and despair as other women in her situation might have done. Instead, she goes off to battle, proving her nobility and worth, kicking major butt in the process.

The movie isn't just about the Ring and the quest to overcome evil, no matter how high the price; it's about relationships. For instance, we observe how the relationship between Frodo and Sam sustains the Ringbearer. We see how even friendships can develop between traditional foes - dwarves and elves, with the rivalry between the two and the admission at the final battle at Mordor when Gimli states, "I never thought I'd die fighting beside an elf," and Legolas smiles, "What about beside a friend?" "Aye," Gimli agrees, "That I could." A little clichéd but touching nonetheless.

We are hit by the realisation that no victory comes without a price, that nothing can be won without great sacrifices. It is through the willingness of people to sacrifice themselves for the greater good that men prevail. Without Aragorn's willingness to "die as one of [the Gondorians]" in the battle of Helm's Deep and his willingness to face death by seeking out the undead army of the mountain people, mankind would have been overrun even if Frodo had managed to succeed in his quest. And if Aragorn had not been willing to sacrifice himself and his small army against the forces of Mordor, there is no way Frodo and Sam would have managed to make it to Mount Doom without either the orcs or Sauron spotting them. If it had not been for Sam's willingness to follow Frodo to the very end - even with the knowledge that there was to be no return journey for either one of them, Frodo would not have succeeded in the quest entrusted to him. This theme follows even at the micro-levels. Had the men of Gondor or Rohan chosen to follow their natural human instincts - to want to live rather than ride to a certain death - Middle Earth would have been lost. Instead they rode forth to battle, with the knowledge that they would most likely not return, in order to hold off - not win - but hold off the forces for that precious bit of time just so that a hobbit, against insurmontable odds, might be able to accomplish the impossible. The final part of the ending is a little heartrending. Frodo, after having gone through so much torment by the burden he bore, is unable to return to life as he knew it before. The happy-go-lucky hobbit we saw in Fellowship of the Ring has changed into a melancholic character, unable to pick up the threads of his original life after having suffered so much. Time, it seems, cannot heal all wounds.

While I do understand that reality doesn't always work like that - good doesn't always overcome evil, nor does love conquer all, but still, movies like this do inspire. They do give hope, that even when you're in your darkest hour, that there is always the possibility that something could happen to turn everything around. After all, if someone could think of it, could write of it, could conceive of it, then perhaps, it is not a mere whisper of fantasy, but the hint of actual possibilities. And this does make life a little easier to bear.

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