Tuesday, February 28, 2012


In which I rant about the mutilation of a beloved character
I figure most people are tired of hearing how the movie ruined Faramir long since.  Within a week or so of when the movie first came out.  But when I made an offhand comment about it, someone asked for the full version... and I gave it.  I reproduce it here.  Except in the beginning it was a lot of Facebook comments and some others were interspersed; here I only include mine, and only the ones that were more of an essay than a conversation.  I do a very little minimal editing.

First, let me say I thought the movies were pretty good. They showed millions of people that Middle-Earth is beautiful. They kept some of the major themes at least. Nothing like how awesome the books are, but that's just to be expected when someone else messes with the vision of a genius like Tolkien, constrained by such a restrictive medium as movies. Lothlorien was disappointing, but Rivendell was beautiful beyond my imagination and Minas Tirith was glorious. Ah, the soundtrack! They got the atmosphere of the places mostly right. They did an amazing job of showing the hobbits feeling lost and small in the inn of Bree and Aragorn looking terribly menacing in the corner. And so much more. It's *hard* to make Ents in a movie, thus I forgive them the fact that Ent eyes are super-lame compared to Tolkien's description. It's impossible to demonstrate the effects of Saruman's voice, thus I do not resent the fact that they barely even tried. They truly didn't have enough time for Tom Bombadil. Etc., etc. </disclaimer>



Let me show you Faramir from the book.  You may have forgotten him.  You may never have met him.  I'll let him speak for himself.  This is Faramir from the book:

"But this much I learned, or guessed, and I have kept it ever secret in my heart since: that Isildur took somewhat from the hand of the Unnamed, ere he went away from Gondor, never to be seen among mortal men again. ...

"What in truth this Thing is I cannot yet guess; but some heirloom of power and peril it must be. A fell weapon, perchance, devised by the Dark Lord. If it were a thing that gave advantage in battle, I can well believe that Boromir, the proud and fearless, often rash, ever anxious for the victory of Minas Tirith (and his own glory therein), might desire such a thing and be allured by it. Alas that ever he went on that errand! I should have been chosen by my father and the elders, but he put himself forward, as being the older and the hardier (both true), and he would not be stayed.

"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.


"For myself, I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace: Minas Tirith again as of old, full of light, high and fair, beautiful as a queen among other queens: not a mistress of many slaves, nay, not even a kind mistress of willing slaves. War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men of Numenor; and I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty, and her present wisdom. Not feared, save as men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise."

And later, a good while later, after finding Gollum and speaking more, Sam clumsily said of Boromir, "From the moment he first saw it he wanted the Enemy's Ring!" And there was much horror on the part of Frodo and Sam as they realized what he had just said.

"Save me!" said Sam turning white...

"Now look here, sir!" He turned, facing up to Faramir with all the courage he could muster. "Don't you go taking advantage of my master because his servant's no better than a fool. ... Now's a chance to show your quality."

"So it seems," said Faramir, slowly and very softly, with a strange smile. "So that is the answer to all the riddles! The One Ring that was thought to have perished from the world. And Boromir tried to take it by force? And you escaped? And ran all the way - to me! And here in the wild I have you: two halflings, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings. A pretty stroke of fortune! A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality! Ha!" He stood up, very tall and stern, his gray eyes glinting.

Frodo and Sam sprang from their stools and set themselves side by side with their backs to the wall, fumbling for their sword-hilts. There was a silence. All the men in the cave stopped talking and looked towards them in wonder. But Faramir sat down again in his chair and began to laugh quietly, and then suddenly became grave again.

"Alas for Boromir! It was too sore a trial!" he said. "How you have increased my sorrow, you two strange wanderers from a far country, bearing the peril of Men! But you are less judges of Men than I of Halflings. We are truth-speakers, we men of Gondor. We boast seldom, and then perform, or die in the attempt. Not if I found it on the highway would I take it I said. Even if I were such a man as to desire this thing, and even though I knew not clearly what this thing was when I spoke, still I should take those words as a vow, and be held by them.

"But I am not such a man. Or I am wise enough to know that there are some perils from which a man must flee. Sit at peace! And be comforted, Samwise. If you seem to have stumbled, think that it was fated to be so. Your heart is shrewd as well as faithful, and saw clearer than your eyes. For strange though it may seem, it was safe to declare this to me. It may even help the master that you love. It shall turn to his good, if it is in my power. So be comforted. But do not even name this thing again aloud. Once is enough."

And then there is a confrontation between Faramir and Denethor, with Gandalf and Pippin present, in The Return of the King. You can see Faramir longing for his father's approval for a change, and you can see Denethor angry, furious, spiteful. "To use this thing is perilous. At this hour, to send it in the hands of a witless halfling into the land of the Enemy himself, as you have done, and this son of mine, that is madness."

‎:sigh: And what does the movie do? It shows Faramir take Frodo and Sam by force, taking them and the Ring to Gondor, as his father would have wanted. Then he suddenly, inexplicably changes his mind. I don't remember what they tried to portray as his motivation; I remember I found it singularly unconvincing.

The only explanation I ever heard was that they wanted to show the "drama" of Faramir's decision. Show how "torn" he was.

How could you possibly not think it's dramatic if you have Faramir stand and proclaim the choice before him, explaining why they're in his power, what he could do? Show him there, hand on sword, maybe with quick flashes - movies can do that so well - of him leading armies, winning glory, destroying the armies of Mordor, driving them back from Gondor? Perhaps show his disapproving father who had only loved Boromir cheering him? How could you not think it dramatic to have him point out with a strange smile that now he could easily take what his brother tried to take? To have Frodo and Sam stand and fumble desperately, hopelessly, for sword hilts?

Faramir is Boromir's foil. He is not Boromir. And thus Faramir becomes the mouthpiece of SEVERAL OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THEMES OF THE ENTIRE TRILOGY, ALL CONDENSED INTO A FEW SHORT PARAGRAPHS.

Faramir demonstrates that although Boromir's failure was understandable, he was *not* a mere victim of his circumstances. He was not a strong enough person. He was greatly physically strong, but he loved glory too much.  

Faramir was a great man, a man with strength of will, a man able to lead valiantly in battle when all seemed lost, able to fight when he fully expected to die, and able to refuse the weapon that would bring him victory, life, and glory.  

Faramir stepped aside for Aragorn gladly. Boromir might not have been able to.

Hollywood seems to have this notion that one must teeter on the brink of an evil decision in one's own heart before it is a dramatic decision. That it's not impressive enough that Faramir let them go unless he is almost overmastered. That making the wrong decision temporarily is the only way for a dramatic redemption. That Faramir is just Boromir who manages to hold on to Frodo long enough that he repents before Frodo runs away instead of a little after.

Thus they ruin, they stomp upon, they mutilate, the story of Faramir. The story of a man with such a noble soul that not for a moment would he be truly tempted by such a prize, laid on the table before him.

We already saw Boromir, the brave man, yes, the good man, who was corrupted by a prize beyond him. Alas for Boromir! It was too sore a trial. And we saw him repent in tears and give his life for Merry and Pippin.

We don't need to see Boromir again in the land of Ithilien. No, we want Faramir. We want to know that though the Ring is too much, though placing it within a man's grasp is too much to bear, too sore, that there are those who could stand up to it. We want to know that it is possible, faced with power and glory and everything your heart has long desired - the approval of a father who always favored your brother, who never chose you - still it is possible to say, No, not if I found it on the highway would I take it.

They could have shown the temptation without showing Faramir succumbing to temptation. They could have, and they should have.

Faramir is the strongest sign of a problem which appears in other places in the movies too. Faramir's actions were changed; elsewhere, they limited it to words and attitudes.

Elrond is the clearest other example I'm thinking of. Elrond growing angry at Aragorn for taking his daughter away? No. He said he would not grant her to him for any less cause than bringing the kings of men back to Middle-Earth, but he said it not with anger, but with deep, deep sorrow. We wish to lash out angrily when people threaten what we hold dear... but Elrond would not. Except in the movie, where they will not allow for any characters which are too virtuous.

Ah yes, and Frodo growing angry at Sam and believing Gollum was another truly awful moment. Absurd. Horrific.

One of the reasons why Plato was not a fan of plays: because in the interests of entertainment, actors went out of their way to express disproportionate emotion: rage and grief and laughter all to degrees that would be shameful in a real person. Plato wanted to encourage moderation and restraint in the face of trouble.

What gets me is that movies have the power to show so much more subtleties than plays. They can use clever tricks to show thoughts, to heighten the drama, to do so much with the flicker of an actor's eyelids. They don't have to fall into that trap... but they do. So. Often.

And of course in this case, they made a lot of people very angry, not just me:

I don't think it was smart, let alone justified.  Really good heroes do... really well with fans... actually...  Even if it were smart, though, it would not be justified.  They took several major themes of the book, looked them in the eye, and said, "Naw. Why expose the audience to what actual virtue would look like? Let's give 'em some, ah, sort of well-meaning goodness instead. Just like last time with Boromir. Faramir is his brother. Clearly they should be alike."

And what really makes me find it unforgiveable: They made the movie longer to do so. With all that whining about how the books are too long to make into good movies (so be quiet, rabid fans!), *their worst change was one that made them insert another giant scene that was never in the book.*

You can take out Tom Bombadil if you must, but don't you dare replace him with the Abomination of False Faramir.


1 comment:

  1. Commented on facebook already, but...

    I'm wondering now if they thought portraying Faramir with those flashbacks and visualized temptations and such would be too similar to Galadriel?? Whereas this way, if he starts to take it but then changes his mind, it's at least a little different from Boromir? :-/