Tolkien movie

I4detail

New Member
So, is there going to be a special place on the forums (or in hell) to discuss the Tolkien movie? Because I need a safe place where I can rip the movie to shreds and jump up and down on the pieces.
 
"I never called Edith Lúthien – but she was the source of the story that in time became the chief part of the Silmarillion. It was first conceived in a small woodland glade filled with hemlocks at Roos in Yorkshire (where I was for a brief time in command of an outpost of the Humber Garrison in 1917, and she was able to live with me for a while). In those days her hair was raven, her skin clear, her eyes brighter than you have seen them, and she could sing – and dance. But the story has gone crooked, & I am left, and I cannot plead before the inexorable Mandos."

I believed this, watching the film portray their relationship. I felt it course through the whole story. Whatever else can be said about the film (and I am a fan, for what it's worth), and the rearranging of timelines etc., they nailed this theme. And the film is so much the better for it.
 

I4detail

New Member
This one is tough for me, because I was working on a script encapsulating exactly this period of time, and my vision of this was always more innocent. Emphasizing their intellectual attraction. The whole “you were in her room” conversation with father Francis seems to imply a less innocent relationship. The image that has always stated with me is the two of them talking to each other from window to window at the boarding house. There is very little sense of the relationship developing from a shared life together.

And the whole engagement thing bugged me, too. Tolkien is portrayed as very passively accepting the whole thing; the letter he sends is the letter he has sitting on the shelf for years, as far as we can tell. The impression I got, at least from Carpenters bio, is he went out and won her back. There is no sense of his mounting an attack for her affections, which is sort of the vibe I’ve always gotten.

I didn’t hate the film (and especially not this part, though I found it lacking. I’ll write about my biggest objections when I am not on my phone.
 

I4detail

New Member
There are a number of things that bother me about the movie, but, right now, the biggest is in the nature and character of Tolkien. He is presented as a genius with languages, and someone with an inventive imagination, but those traits are pasted onto a fairly generic young rebel archetype. For a film that is about Tolkien, vast swaths of his personality are overlooked, and an equal amount is just made up.

For instance, he gets into a brawl with one fellow, and punches another. I am not an expert on the life of Tolkien (my big kick was almost two decades ago, and details fade), but this seems a little ... brutish for Tolkien.

Faith plays no role in the film (do we even need to mention this? It seems a given, but, for someone as devout, even as a child, as Tolkien was, it does nothing but lessen the character), and, while Tolkien accepts Fr Francis' saying "you can't see her until you hit the age of majority", again, Tolkien is sullen and pouty and prone to standing on desks and saying "oh captain my captain." Wait. Wrong movie, but only just.

All in all, it feels like the director and writers were projecting a modern character with modern sensibilities back onto Tollers. There are frequent little touches that show us that yes, they did their research, but most of it feels like the trappings of his life, but it rarely felt like they touched his heart.
 
I noticed the downplaying of his Catholicism too, and I admit that one struck me. It was clearly a conscious choice by writer & director. And it would be interesting to hear why. As for the brawling, etc., I think we see this in movie adaptations over & over -- the psychological is hard to put on screen, so it is reinterpreted as physical. (See PJ's LOTR movies where, say, Gandalf & Saruman have a physical wand-battle, or when Gandalf pulls Saruman out of Theoden.) As for it being brutish, Tolkien did choose to play rugby after all; it seems a part of him in his youth enjoyed raw physicality.

For me, I got more out of the film's version of Tolkien than just his genius for language and inventiveness. I saw strong will & willingness to advocate for himself; firm sense of duty even when it conflicted with his desires*; deep abiding love of & support for his friendships; what Edith meant to him as muse and partner; how his later writing would be informed by his experiences -- idyllic childhood at Sarehole (the scene at the back of the horsecart with its hanging lamps felt like a slice of the Shire) to hellish scenes & memories at the Somme.

I think the film managed to tick many boxes of what we know, and they did it in a way that could introduce young Tolkien to people who had never before really considered his younger years. I'm unconvinced by some of their choices, but I still think it was well-done.

* two major life-derailing events: his forced parting with Edith & being called to serve in the war. Those don't fit the idea of the rebel archetype, in my view.
 

Darren Grey

Member
I thought it was fine in terms of accuracy (they play about with things, but that's sort of expected in a movie) but overall quite dull and trite. It feels all smooth edges and saccharine airs. When people have disputes it's with just the right level of not tipping the boat and remaining chummy. Tolkien himself is a fairly blank, passive character and doesn't come across as authentic. Similar for Edith. Gilson was the only person that really stood out to me (reminded me of some annoying friends I have).

The pacing was quite slow for most of it, and then very rushed at the end. I don't mind the slow pacing so much, but it seems a shame we didn't get more of the dwelling on how he lost his friends before suddenly skipping ahead 20 years.

The way they cut out having Tolkien chasing Edith upon finding out she's engaged was a bit weird, I thought. Surely that's a bit of truth that works really well for a movie?
 

JJ48

Active Member
I just saw both the movie and Corey's discussion, and I enjoyed both. Usually, when I think of Tolkien, I think of him in his later life. It was interesting to see a view of him as a young man (with the accompanying mix of brilliance and foolishness).

Concerning Tolkien's faith, in the discussion, Corey asked what a movie about Tolkien's faith would look like, so as to not simply be checking boxes for the sake of checking boxes. Based on what little I know, I think I would show his faith influencing his writing while contrasting with some of his contemporaries. Start with his childhood, and his mother passing along her faith to her sons. Move on to the Great War, with all its needless, senseless death and devastation. Show post-war authors trending toward nihilism while Tolkien, believing in a higher power, struggles to reconcile his faith with his experience. Finally, show the blending of his faith and experience in his works, with his experience tempering the heroics with sadness and loss, and his faith bringing Hope from the hopeless.

I'm sure I'm not explaining it well, and I'd have to figure out how it could be visually depicted interestingly, but I do think a movie could be made with Tolkien's faith as the focus.
 

MithLuin

Well-Known Member
Telling stories of faith on film is notoriously difficult, because it's such an interior aspect of a person's life. But you are right that showing the impact on a person's life work and decisions is the way to convey this dramatically.

It's easier to tell the story of Fr. Damien of Molokai than Teresa of Avila, because he was building a leper colony and she was having mystic visions in a convent. So naturally any attempt to tell her story would have to focus on the reform movement of the Carmelites and her role in that.

For Tolkien, you'd have to start with the people who passed on the faith to him - his mother, his guardians, and focus on those relationships. But since his life work was writing, another notorious difficult-to-convey private interior process, it would be a challenge to show how his faith influenced that.

But, hey, there are plenty of movies of lives of the saints, so it can certainly be done. It's just often done poorly.
 

JJ48

Active Member
Yeah, I don't know how much he discussed his writing and themes with his family or the Inklings, but for a movie, it'd probably help to make some of the internal processes external discussions.
 
Last edited:

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
The easiest way I am aware of to depict faith is in conversations with those who do not share it. To my understanding these conversations did occur within the Inklings, specifically with Lewis. The problem is in trying to tell this story in the same film as Tolkien's youth, the TCBS, his romance with Edith, and the war. To get us to Hobbits, the recent film has to perform a time skip during the denouement, which works. To do so only to start the story up again with new characters and a new focus would be extremely awkward.
 

MithLuin

Well-Known Member
Well, if such conversations happened with the Inklings, why not with TCBS as well?

Also, a film focused on Tolkien's faith likely wouldn't limit itself to his early life....
 

JJ48

Active Member
For the record, I wasn't saying that's what this movie should have done; rather, that's how I would approach a movie focused more on his faith.
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
Well, if such conversations happened with the Inklings, why not with TCBS as well?

Also, a film focused on Tolkien's faith likely wouldn't limit itself to his early life....
I honestly don't know enough about the TCBS to answer this. Was there any question of their beliefs? Did anyone challenge their Christianity? And yes, I agree that you wouldn't limit the film to his early life, but I can understand why doing so might make for an odd story flow.
 

MithLuin

Well-Known Member
I've never read anything by John Garth, so I'm not the right person to address questions about Tolkien's younger years (and I haven't seen this biopic, either). It's been ages since I've read Carpenter's biography as well.

My experience with teenagers is that they discuss what matters to them, so certainly if you have someone in the group who cares about such things, they're going to bring it up. And once you bring it up, the points of disagreement come up. So, even if they were all Christian (I don't know that they were) I doubt they were all Catholic. And my understanding of early 20th century England is that being Catholic rather than Protestant was still rather a big deal (though not Henry VIII destruction of the monasteries English martyrs big deal). Thus, it would be easy to invent a fictitious schoolmate who took issue with Tolkien's Catholicism and challenged him on it in some way to bring out those issues, if one wanted to.
 

MithLuin

Well-Known Member
Generally speaking, additions are more welcome than changes, as long as the additions do not alter the canon story in any way ;). Ie, most people did not object to the scene where Boromir teaches Merry and Pippin the basics of swordfighting*, even though that was certainly not in the story, because it was seen as something that could have happened and just been left out. Whereas the scene where Boromir held the Ring in his hand (when it fell off Frodo's neck in the snow) got more complaints of the 'but Boromir never touched the Ring!' variety. And that's not even getting into changes that directly contradict the story, such as Aragorn beheading the Mouth of Sauron, or Haldir's death at Helm's Deep.

*The only objections I've heard to that scene are of the practical variety, as you maybe shouldn't do that lesson with live steel and beginners, or that it doesn't address the clear height/strength differences between hobbits and humans realistically, etc. No one argues that it was out of character for Boromir to teach them, or for Merry and Pippin to want to learn, or for such a thing to have happened in the 'down time' of the journey. It was therefore generally viewed as an acceptable 'missing scene' addition to the story, with complaints limited to how it was portrayed, not that it was portrayed at all.


Given that, there would be *strong* objections to making one of Tolkien's closest friends into an antagonist just for the sake of conflict in the storyline, but there would maybe be less objection to having one of his (say) unknown rugby teammates have the type of antagonistic relationship that the TCBS would be in such contrast to. No one knows much about those boys, so there's room for invention without contradicting what we do know, and there would be no need to make such a character a caricature - one could do enough research to make him a believable representation of someone of that time and place. But I wasn't joking when I said I don't know much about this part of his life. If the majority of his schoolmates were Catholic, there's less opportunity to introduce the proto-CS Lewis type of friendship there. My own experience with attending a Catholic high school in America in the '90s was that about half the students were from Catholic families and half from Protestant, and that many were 'raised Christian' but certainly not practicing/believing Christians. I recognize that this has little to do with the experience of attending a boys boarding school in England pre-WWI, though.

But again, this begs the question of what story you set out to tell. If the question is 'how could one showcase Tolkien's faith in a biographical film?' there are methods that can be suggested. That doesn't mean that this particular film project should have done these things, but it doesn't really surprise me to hear that they toned down his faith. It's difficult to convey and probably less comfortable to the filmmakers to try.



'Lives of the Saints' videos are an entire genre. Naturally, they focus on the faith of the people portrayed. The production quality is typically less good than your average feature film for a general audience, but that doesn't mean they're all terrible or badly written/acted. It's more that they're in the tradition of hagiography, which celebrates faith/holiness in a way that other stories do not. Some...are better than others. I've never seen a decent film representing the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Very few people 'get' him, even the ones who like him! He's quite incredible, but to a modern audience he's more a hippie who liked animals - which isn't wrong, but seriously misses the point. His story is difficult to capture. St. Thérèse of Lisieux is even more difficult...her story is entirely interior, so much so that her close family members and those she lived with in the convent (some of whom were the same people!) wouldn't have known it if she didn't write an autobiography. There's a few key events to tell, of course - the death of her mother, her vacation to Rome where she had a chance to have an audience with the pope, and asked him for permission to enter Carmel at the age of 15. But for the most part...everything that she was thinking and feeling and doing was...interior. And her confessor was convinced that she'd never in her life committed a mortal sin, so, there's that, too. She's going to come across as unreal if you tell her story at all faithfully.

Some saints are easier to make a movie about. There have been multiple films about Mother Teresa - she was well known and people were curious about her, so that seemed a natural topic, and what she did was fairly unique in a lot of ways. In general, the backdrop being dramatic helps. So, to list some examples:

Karol: The man who became pope (2005) tells the story of Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II). The backdrop begins with the German invasion of Poland in WWII, and then moves into Soviet-controlled Poland. The halfway point of the film shows his ordination to the priesthood corresponding with the end of WWII. So, it's fairly easy to portray his faith as being in opposition to Nazis and Communists, and for his form of 'resistance' to be giving hope to people and continuing Polish culture in the face of forces that wished to demolish it. It ends with him being elected the first non-Italian pope in 500 years; having established his love for Poland over the course of the movie, it was clear that accepting meant going into exile for him. Overall, I would say this is a fairly well-done film in this genre. The production quality is high, and the story has nuance. It's not strictly about piety. Still, if you want to know about his life, I would recommend reading George Weigel's Witness to Hope biography instead.

Molokai: The Story of Father Damien (1999) tells the story of a priest who went as missionary to the Hawaiian leper colony. It of course touches on themes of people being outcast and needing an advocate, fears of incurable diseases, and what happens when you have lawlessness on an island. Also, you might recognize the actor who plays Fr. Damien, as he was later Faramir in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings;). He comes across as a bit of a relentless simpleton here, though clever in his own way. He is fighting against despair and injustice and against the plight of his people being ignored, and he is doing it by accepting them, serving them, and holding very strongly to who he is. The challenge is to portray someone who loves selflessly and is very willing to take risks.

The Song of Bernadette (1943) tells the story of Bernadette Soubirous, the visionary at Lourdes. You can tell that this film was made for an audience that would be quite accepting of faith in general; but it is still a bit more 'general audience' than the other two I've listed. Here, there is a bit of the spectacle of the miraculous, with the story focusing on her vision and the healing miracles there.

A more 'typical' film in this genre might be the life of Padre Pio in Italian, Padre Pio: Miracle Man (2000) (final clip). I would say that this film would be very difficult to understand outside the context of Padre Pio's faith. His faith and his life are...pretty much the same thing. The story is mostly about miracles and conversions. (In this clip, he performs an exorcism after having been beat up by the devil the night before: clip; and in this one, he yells at one of his supporters and publicly shames him because he dared insult a bishop: clip) What he's fighting against are quite literally the devil and sin, so.....


Should someone try to tell Tolkien's story within this genre? I'm not sure it's a great idea. There's not really any need to portray the man as a saint. But I do think that a story of his life that leaves out his faith is leaving out something that was very important to him. So, finding ways to integrate his faith and portray it are worthwhile, even if that's not the central point being made.
 
Last edited:
Top