WHEN: May 17, 2014, 10:59am. (Week 20, May 11-17.)
WHERE: In the living room of my apartment in Portland, ME.
FORMAT: Blu-ray on a Vizio 32″ LED HDTV.
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Preparing for a role.
Are you familiar with the term Accidental Durden? You shouldn’t be, because I just made it up. Anyway, I was on my way to a Fight Club-themed birthday party and was thinking about how everybody praises David Fincher for hiding lots of little clues that lead up to the big reveal, that the character Tyler Durden doesn’t actually exist. (You’ve had fifteen years, time’s up.) Save for a couple fudged details, people can’t talk to Tyler without the character that’s imagining him around, and they often mimic each other’s movements. It’s impressive work, but it suddenly hit me: has a filmmaker ever unintentionally done this? Is there a movie with a large cast of characters and, somewhere in the jumble, the majority of a single character’s interactions are with just one other person? Or only occur if that person is around? If so, you’ve got an Accidental Durden.
I wanted to test this idea out, and if I know one movie with an overabundance of characters, it’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. So, what’s the verdict?
I hope it’s “this poster was worth making.”
Yeah, seriously, while it may not hold up all the way through the Rings trilogy, over the course of The Fellowship of the Ring, Merry is absolutely Pippin’s Tyler Durden, and it goes beyond just interactions. But, before I explain, look at this.
Click here to enlarge.
That’s a chart of all the interactions between major characters in The Fellowship of the Ring. I left out any non-speaking monsters, and also the Ringwraiths, because Oops. I didn’t count characters merely being in the same room; they had to speak to each other, bump into each other, react to one another, etc. Also, that dotted line is for all the times Gandalf sees a flash of the Eye going “BLAGH!” for a split-second. I figured this would be the best way to find an Accidental Durden, until halfway through the movie when I realized that this chart doesn’t really map out group interactions and which characters are always together for them. Oops 2: The New Batch.
These guys don’t hang out a lot, do they?
A couple other pairings emerged prior to Merry and Pippin, but the evidence wasn’t as strong.
BILBO IS FRODO’S TYLER DURDEN:
Oddly enough, Bilbo only ever speaks to Frodo and Gandalf throughout the entire movie. Yes, Bilbo has a grand birthday party where everyone can see him give a speech, but Frodo is always in attendance, so under Fight Club rules, we’re still good. Maybe Frodo is actually giving the speech, and is 111 years old himself, but can’t come to terms with it, so he manifests Bilbo as just some other elderly dude and imagines himself as young and sexy?
“Hahaha, keep talking, you old coot!”
Bilbo has two private conversations with Gandalf, which kind of derails it, but if Edward Norton is allowed to take a lone taxicab ride to the aftermath of something his imaginary Brad Pitt has done, then I think Frodo can imagine Bilbo having fake conversations with Gandalf or not picture himself as being present for them. Also, holy shit, despite all the characters hangin’ out at Rivendell, Bilbo only talks to Frodo, and always alone.
“I’m YOUUU, old man! Confront your mortality!”
GANDALF IS FRODO’S TYLER DURDEN:
This one’s the shakiest of them all, but I hope it’s obvious at this point that I’m just trying to amuse myself during a movie I can’t stand. Anyway, Frodo’s always yearning for adventure, so why not conjure up a wizard in your mind that needs you to go on a grand quest? It fits the spirit of Tyler Durden, in that Gandalf’s making Frodo do insane shit just to feel something and a bunch of other people are getting dragged down with him. This hiking trip to Mordor is totally Frodo’s Project Mayhem.
“What have I done?”
There are plenty of holes in this thought experiment, so you have to fudge quite a bit. Gandalf and Saruman have a fight while Frodo is miles away, and Saruman can’t be fake too because he starts up the Uruk-hai army that comes after the Fellowship. Still, the interaction between the two wizards could have been entirely in his head. Frodo just sent his mind-Gandalf to confront the bad guy. Hell, Gandalf getting locked in the tower could represent Frodo suddenly doubting his great adventure. And when Gandalf falls into the pit? That’s Frodo’s guilt trying to tell him to stop putting these people in danger just because he really wants some old ring he found to be magic.
I’m sorry I let you see the things I think when I’m bored.
But okay, on to the good one.
SERIOUSLY, MERRY IS PIPPIN’S TYLER DURDEN:
Right off the bat, the two are inseparable. You think Merry, Pippin’s there too. Throughout the entire movie, you never get one without the other. But hey, they’re just best buds, right?
“Where are you going with this?”
Well, much like Edward Norton flinches when Brad Pitt takes a punch, Merry and Pippin are almost always partaking in the same action at the same time. Stealing fireworks, doing dishes, drinking ale… hell, Boromir teaches them to swordfight simultaneously. Maybe because there’s only one of them?
The first rule of Swordfight Club–DAMMIT.
Log it, I made it 11 paragraphs into a Fight Club article before a “first rule” joke.
Or how about when they run through Farmer Maggot’s crops and both knock over Frodo and Sam, but nobody speaks to Merry?
And they both run past Elrond together, prompting only one head turn. Hmm, I say!
Elrond: Rivendell’s hall monitor.
You’re right, I’m insane to hunt for all these little details, but this is the point of the Accidental Durden. Were you to splice in a clip at the end of someone asking Pippin who he’s been talking to this whole time, these are exactly the subtle nuances you would praise Peter Jackson for including in his masterful tale of a Hobbit who’s finally snapped. And yet, they’re there accidentally.
Plus, it goes beyond merely doing stuff together. Just like Tyler Durden is the part of the Narrator that violently seizes the day, Merry is always the one shaking things up or telling Pippin what to do. Here’s a list of just some of the ways Merry is Pippin’s chaotic inner alpha male while Pippin is stricken with fear and doubt:
- Merry tells Pippin to steal the fireworks.
- Merry is the one that throws the bag to distract the Ringwraith.
- Merry kicks off the run to Bucklebury Ferry.
- Merry gets the bigger drink at the Prancing Pony.
- Merry tells Pippin to shut the fuck up about second breakfast.
- Merry calls Pippin an idiot at the Council of Elrond.
- Merry doesn’t scream when the cave troll approaches them.
- Merry is the first to pick up a sword to avenge Boromir.
“All the ways you wish you could be, that’s me. I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.” – Meriadoc Brandybuck. I mean, Tyler Durden.
“I want you to hit me as hard as you can.”
There is exactly one scene where Pippin acts entirely alone, and that’s when he knocks the bucket down the well in Moria and alerts the bad guys to their position. In that instant, he is isolated in the frame, left to feel weak and worthless. He flinches, he tenses up, and Gandalf calls him a fool. This is Pippin at his rawest, without any idealized self to fight his battles for him, and in this moment, we see who he truly is.
But then Merry comes back and we don’t even notice how much Pippin sucks!
HEY, WAIT A MINUTE:
Doesn’t Elrond say, “Nine companions”? Fuck it, this whole thing’s blown.
“Eight companions, one of whom keeps talking to himself constantly.”
Well, still, you know… yeah.
ONE THING THAT WOULD HAVE IMPROVED THE MOVIE:
A giant rabbit named Harvey.
From left to right: Harvey, Frodo.