Thoughts on Peter Jackson's 'Lord of the Rings'
essay was originally written shortly after seeing the first in Jackson's
trilogy; I offer it hear in anticipation of the release of the final installment
in a couple of months. - rand
was dragged to see Peter Jackson’s three-plus hour opus, “Lord
of the Rings”, by two friends – one, a fan of the original
books who was skeptical it could be translated well to the screen and
another who had read the books and was initially rather indifferent. The
fan was won over by the film, seeing some kind of depth there. The casual
observer was won over by the effective use of every trick in the book
– the “Film of a Thousand Cliché’s”, he
called it – to produce a well-crafted fantasy movie.
for myself, I never read the book and have not really been that interested
in the fantasy genre. I got into an interesting discussion about why fantasy
films don’t work for me and, for some reason, I couldn’t really
put a finger on it at the time.
it’s the kind of “faux” Celtic thing going on in all
these things – a little music by Enya goes a long way for me. Maybe
it’s all those damn, cheery little elves everywhere, inhabiting
some kind of idealized soft focus leafy world. Maybe it’s the fact
that much of the fantasy genre has become so clichéd that the elements
that would peak interest in a non-fantasy-freak, such as interesting or
surprising characters and settings, seem so lacking.
a basic level, fantasy fiction and film have a basis in myth and the children’s
story. If you’ve seen any number of fantasy films, you can probably
predict who these characters are and where they’re going in the
film early on. We’ve really heard these stories many times before.
But, like the people gathered around the fire listening to an ancient
shaman re-tell an ancient story everyone knows, the real added value is
in the storytelling.
that’s the intriguing thing about Peter Jackson’s interpretation
of “Lord of the Rings”. Some people see Tolkein’s trilogy
in terms of World War II – afterall, the book was started during
the War and chapters mailed to Tolkein’s son as a gift. The “good
versus evil” story could, very well, be a commentary on the real
life good and evil struggle going on at the time. Others see it as having
some kind of comment on Christianity – I’m, quite frankly,
lost on this particular interpretation, at least in Jackson’s rendering
of it. Still others become engrossed in the fantasy world, made up languages,
and off-kilter fantasy beings – all the elves, dwarfs, hobbits,
and other assorted menagerie that scurry around the pages of these books.
Still others like that idea of a sort of noble alternate reality, with
clear-cut heroes and villains, noble quests, and fair maidens.
quite strangely, as someone who never read the book and was experiencing
this story for the first time, one thing kept going through my head: this
movie is about sex.
I’m not turning into some deconstructionist post-modern intellectual
that sees could see sex in the most inane of films. Sex is definitely
there, permeating every part of the world that Jackson creates. In discussions
with my friends, I see that this is, in part, due to Jackson’s accurate
portrayal of the Tolkein books. But, the sexual elements are manifested
in the film in very cinematic ways that could only come from the minds
of Jackson and the other creative artists working with him.
off, we have the ring itself. I noticed early on that it closely resembles
a simple wedding ring. Now, one might expect that a ring that could potentially
destroy the world would be a little more elaborate than a wedding band.
But, this one is as plain as it could be. It does make some kind of sense,
in some respects – perhaps the idea of marrying oneself to good
or evil – it’s not unlike the ceremony of a priest or nun
wearing a wedding ring to show their devotion to the Church. In fact,
the said ring is one of a set – the others are possessed by humans
that are now shadowy evil beings who are trying to return this one “master”
ring to the being that created it (and who, by extension, rules all of
the other rings). All of them are, in a way, married to evil.
it goes much deeper than that. All through the film, the characters keep
referring to the “watching eye” that appears on screen at
certain points, representing the evil whatchamacallit that is wanting
the ring and hoping to take over the world. The “watching eye”
appears to those who put on the ring or who have the powers to be tuned
in to that particular magical channel, rather than “Who Wants to
Marry a Millionaire”. For the life of me, though, I couldn’t
see it as an eye through most of the film – for me, it looked like
a vagina with flames around the edge. Literally, a burning bush.
about it for a moment – those who possess the ring, a symbol of
marriage, see visions of a burning vagina.
me, that fact alone made watching “Lord of the Rings” a little
surreal. As the film progressed and the CGI effects and action sequences
started leaving me cold, the characters – humans, wizards, hobbits,
elves, and dwarfs – seemed to take on life as representations of
dwarfs are short and stocky, loud and drinking little things. But their
underground world, which the characters do battle in, has high ceilings
and columns and one is struck by the many shots of long corridors and
hallways in this section of the film. Literally, in Jackson’s vision,
dwarfs aren’t big enough to fill the vaginas they have created in
their own surroundings.
elves, with their pointed ears and penchant towards magic , dwell in the
forest. Their surroundings are green and inviting – the characters
seem to always be heading for the safety of the elves forest womb throughout
the picture. There’s a kind of repressed sexuality there that reminds
one of hard-core feminists – the fellowship forms in a circle in
the realm of the elves, not unlike a feminist consensus meeting. Even
the male elves, take on a quite feminine quality with their voices, costumes,
this same section of the film, the hobbit Frodo makes a connection with
some kind of elf queen that gets him to look in a mirror to see the future.
The mirror is on a very phallic pedestal and shows him a world of battles,
violence, and fire if he fails. The queen, overcome by the draw of the
ring (and, perhaps, the potential of sexual intimacy on the end of the
phallic pedestal) almost literally gets a hard-on, turning briefly into
a larger, slightly evil being before getting herself under control. Frodo
– a hobbit that resembles a teenage boy – becomes quite frightened
of her (the potential of sexual arousal and, perhaps, castration) and
offers to give her the ring, afraid of the power it represents. No, she
tells him, only the owner of the ring can go here.
see the same imagery in the realm of the bad wizard. Here, a kind of crystal
ball (again focusing on round objects) is set atop a pedestal and the
bad wizard becomes entranced with the power of it – the crystal
bal too shows images of fire, power, and destruction. The big battle between
the good and bad wizard takes place on an outrageously tall phallic tower,
with the good wizard being carried away by a bird, bringing to mind the
idea of eggs and fertility.
wizard, whose costume resembles a penis enchased in a condom, is the tallest
of the characters on the quest and seems to “fit” in the tall
corridors and hallways of the dwarves’s realm. But, once he “consummates”
in battle – using his powers to battle a being made up of fire,
he plunges to his death in a pit that reminded me of the image of the
ever-seeing vagina eye. Rather odd, don’t you think? (Even the idea
here of a penis in a condom, performing “safe” sex that cannot
result in pregnancy, is depicted as, ultimately, dangerous and deadly.)
humans in the piece are two scruffy warriors, one good and one almost
good, perhaps mirroring the two wizards. The almost good one, who betrays
the group by trying to get the ring, meets his death in the womb of the
forest. Here, we seem to get the idea that force cannot be used to obtain
the ring (or sex) and force/action are presented as a male weakness to
be apologized for. The almost good human sees the error of his ways, apologizing
for desiring the ring so much. (In fact, desire for the ring – and,
by extension, sex – is a constant theme throughout the show.)
main human hero character of the film is the one that, in the forest,
consoles his dying human friend and is the one that Frodo confides in,
telling him that he is leaving the group to proceed alone. The human sees
that he and the others are unable to destroy the ring – only Frodo
can. The good human character, much like a feminist male (or a proper
Victorian era husband), realizes from the start that sex can’t happen
with force or violence and possessing a ring (marriage) is a prerequisite
for the burning bush.
this point in the film, the odd homoerotic undercurrent of the film comes
into play. (I might note that the film’s female leads seem unapproachable
and distant from the mail-dominated cast of characters.) Frodo takes off
on his own and winds up being pursued by a fellow hobbit that vowed to
take care of him and be beside him during the journey. They engage in
a long embrace and we’re left with Frodo and his companion to take
the ring back to the place where it came from to toss it into the fiery
pits of hell that can only destroy it. Then, the film ends.
interesting stopping point, to be sure. One half-way expects there to
be an ending to this little quest self-contained in the film, but we’re
left with the image of two hobbits – short, barefoot, adolescent
boys with a close physical connection – carrying a ring that they
have to destroy, haunted by the image of a burning vagina.
that gets to the heart of why I don’t like fantasy films. They are
really extensions of mythic children’s stories designed to acclimate
children to the changes that will come with adolescence. “Snow White”
is about menstruation and saving yourself for the proper Prince Charming.
“Jack and the Beanstalk” deals with the dangers of the giant
that lurk with the advent of a hard-on. Tolkein, as a classics scholar
who taught “Beowulf” every year, was certainly aware of the
classical traditions of myth and probably aware of the role that many
played in explaining sex and societal roles to the young listeners around
throughout the 19th century, the mythic children’s story was turned
into some kind of repressed little beast that advocated Victorian sexual
mores and “Lord of the Rings” is definitely a part of this
tradition. No, I guess I like a good mindless action film a lot better.
I suppose I don't have a need for fantasy films that really amount to
sexual morality plays. To hell with the ring – I’ll take the
guys with the scruffy beards and thrusting swords any day.