On Saturday I watched all three movies in The Lord of the Rings. Running at more than 9 hours in total, it spanned the gamut of emotions–excitement, sorrow, confusion, awe, terror, happiness, exhaustion–for only a few of them.
What is this experience like? As millions of people have seen at least one of these fine films, I am not sure how many have seen all three of them, in order, in a single day. It gives me an interesting perspective of them as films, stories, and archetypal experiences. As I have read the three books more than once and watched the movies several times, but this is the first time I saw the stories (by which in this context I mean the movies) holistically.
From this large and exhausting experience, there are a few themes and ideas I have noticed that I think transcend the movies themselves:
- The movies together tell one large and complex tale. Like all stories, there are many perceptions from different perspectives, with lives that intersect and influence one another. The characters’ lives and triumphs and challenges and deaths all relate them to one another in complex ways. Our lives seem to be like that as well. Our lives intersect with one another, and actions we take today do influence our tomorrows, the people who will be there, and how we make meaning. From this perspective, our lives are so complex that we cannot often make sense of them while we are living them, as only when seen holistically and in retrospect can we begin to see how connections and experiences influence one another.
- Good and evil are somewhat elusive concepts. There is a scene where Frodo tricks Golum (Frodo the “master” had gained Golum’s trust, the first time in over 500 or so years Golum has trusted anybody), and in the process Golum is captured. Frodo did this to save Golum’s life, but he never explained this to Golum himself, to which this event seemed like an act of treachery and completely shook his faith in Frodo. Could Frodo have explained this to Golum? Should he have done so? Would the intentions have changed how the action was perceived? Is the ethical judgment of the act depend on the knowledge and intentions around it? I wonder how our individual sense of morality interpret this event.
- Treebeard, the Ent / shepherd of the trees, said at one point, “Side? I am on nobody’s side. Because nobody is on my side.” This seems to lead to so many international incidents. Genocide. Denigration to women. Lack of rights for gays and lesbians, not to mention the transgendered and folks fitting the two-spirit traditions. Doesn’t this lead to crime waves, NIMBY, all the problems in the television series Jericho, urban blight, and the current incarceration rate of 1 in 100 people in the US? Is this the speaking of a child or or US foreign policy or of a wise person who knows it is better to not make waves as this too shall pass? Perhaps only time will tell if this is wise or not?
- Is good always good and evil always evil, with easy, clear-cut lines? If this were the case, then many items in life would be much neater and readily able to be packed in a box. All orcs are bad, and most hobbits are good. Characters who smile and look interested are good, and those who seem mischievous or are dark or stare are evil. Seems smooth, until we encounter Saruman the White (who was good then evil), and all the neat lines and definitions sink into confusion. Very real indeed.
- A few little hobbits persevered and saved Middle Earth. Can seemingly minor people have great impact? Can we really know what impact people around us have? At times we see people who seem influential and important, but at other times we only know people’s real contributions at a later time. Perhaps it really does not matter unless we are directly involved?
- Golum fought with himself. Among the greatest scenes in the entire story is when Golum fought within himself, both his good and his evil nature. We see one win after so many years of the other’s rule, only to sink back into his evil nature again. Did the ring really possess him, or was he weak? Do influences outside of us really hold so much sway over our lives? What role does free will play when external experiences hold so much power? Nature or nurture? If the evil ring really did possess, then was Golum still evil?
- Gimli and comic relief. With so much horror in the world (both Middle Earth and our own), isn’t Gimli a refreshing breath of air? He brought simple comedy (e.g., toss me, but don’t tell the elf) to dire scenes. Did this make them bareable, or did they lesson the difficult lessons by mocking the tragedies? Like a Greek tragedy that utilizes comic relief so as not to create undo stress to the audience, Gimli helped play a character as well as manage the viewing. I wish I knew a Gimli.
I can go on and on, but after watching such a large and complex tale, I both wish I could visit that land and be written about in stories as well as take what I learned and bring it into my life here and now. What does the leaving of the elves at the end of the tale mean about the role of myth and legend and magic in our world? Does history become legend and legend become myth? What does this mean for us?