Last week re-confirmed a truth set on foundations of stone: that while most Christian fantasy fans love The Lord of the Rings books, the films may meet with mixed reactions.
Example A: my captivation by the film and music, contrasted with author R.J. Anderson:
The look of the movie was breathtaking, but I found myself numb and indifferent to all the ACTION ACTION ACTION BATTLE BATTLE BATTLE INSERT VERY UN-TOLKIENESQUE SCENE OR JOKE HERE MORE ACTION STOP that seemed to be going on. Where were the quiet, thoughtful moments that defined the characters so well? Who was this Aragorn who didn’t even seem to know who he truly was, or want to be king?
Aragorn’s and Arwen’s character changes are among the most interesting developments of the film adaptation, I believe. Yet I think I’ll save those for next week. Instead, this issue underlies that one — the issue of perhaps the most extensive character changes made for the Lord of the Rings films. I speak of Faramir, or to use my wife’s reaction, He Who Must Not Be Named … named Faramir, that is.
Faramir gets carded
When we were courtship-dating, in December 2007, I sent my girlfriend an e-card I’d made. The occasion was her work in a “Nutcracker” performance. The background was our first real dispute, as a couple-in-development, and not only about Lord of the Rings.
The first page showed this:
As you prepare for your performance …
Find tonight these greetings and good wishes from someone you know in a faraway land.
He is an overall-good man, flawed in some ways, depending on his presentation mostly … often misunderstood, though, yet fully capable in things such as what few real-world combats do occur, and certainly worth a little re-evaluation.
Of course I am referring to …
And inside — well, here’s the animated equivalent of that part:
In The Two Towers book, Faramir, a Man of Gondor — son of Lord Denethor, the land’s steward, and brother to Boromir, a Fellowship member — finds the two Hobbits, Frodo and Sam, lost in the wilderness. As a soldier tasked with protecting his land, Faramir takes them back to his hideout and quizzes them about their intent. When finally the truth emerges about Frodo’s errand to destroy the evil One Ring, the Hobbits — and readers — are relieved to learn of Faramir’s nobility.
‘But fear no more! I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo.’
Then Faramir and his men escort the Hobbits to the Cross-roads, where the halflings resume their quest to Mordor. “Go with the good will of all good men!” Faramir says.
The film version is only slightly different. Faramir (or Filmamir, if you prefer) captures Frodo and Sam, brings them to his hidden hideout, and questions them as in the book. But then, when Faramir learns what Frodo carries, he’s filled with Ring-lust similar to that which had taken Boromir. Partly out of desperation to “show his quality” to his critical father, Faramir instead escorts the Hobbits to the besieged city of Osgiliath.
Only minor changes, you see, but still meant to honor the spirit of Tolkien, and the original character as portrayed in the book, or. … Or, just maybe, you disagree.
Two different journeys
In the behind-the-scenes footage for The Two Towers’ extended edition, film co-writer Philippa Boyens explained the screenwriters’ motives for their change. With all that we have done to show how evil the Ring is, she argued, how could we have any character come along and say, breezily, that he wouldn’t even pick it up from the side of a road?
What she describes seems another path, from another crossroads, leading to a different exploration of real human nature in a fantastic story. And Christians can know both are equally true, equally Biblical — and equally dangerous, if we ignore the other side.
This is what we read about in texts like Jer. 17:9 (“The heart is deceitful …”) or Rom. 3: 10-11 (“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God”). By themselves, human hearts are ugly and dead. Before God, we have nothing good to offer in this world. And in created worlds, it’s realistic, and God-glorifying, to show the same.
The other path reminds us to show that God’s glory and goodness, are also revealed even in evil people (Matt. 7: 9-11), and even more so in His saints (2 Cor. 7:1). In reality, people can do good things, thanks to God, and this also should show in our stories.
This may explain why people don’t want only angsty dark brooding heroes with secrets, closet skeletons, and mood lighting. Witness the irritations, and parodies, that result when rumors emerge about a superhero or another character getting a “gritty reboot.” People don’t want only “gritty” heroes who have conflicted, just-barely-good character. They also want to be reminded that heroes can act redemptively, nobly, even now.
We want both bright colors and simple nobility, such as Superman.
We also want dark tones and conflicted motives, such as Batman.
That’s why I am mostly all right with the change in Faramir’s character. But I know I’m in the minority, solely because I did not grow up knowing Faramir from the books; I was never attached to him. Would I miss the presence of his nobility, and (we also learn) longing for Gondor’s true king? Perhaps. Yet in the films, we do get some of that from other characters. Those virtues are not entirely missing.
Still, I can also understand people, like a certain lady of mine, who think the film, even with some changes, could have done better. You may have similar criticisms, or maybe even specific suggestions for improving movie-Faramir. Or Filmamir. Or Faramir …