WHEN: June 14, 2014, 10:58am. (Week 24, June 8-14.)
WHERE: In the living room of my apartment in Portland, ME.
FORMAT: Blu-ray on a Vizio 47″ LCD HDTV.
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Still angry over a personal matter. Just trying to get this done.
So hey, when a Fake Movie Science experiment takes up three years of your life, something bad is bound happen to you at some point during that time. My something bad happened this week. To be honest, I was just going to fart this viewing out, slap up an apology for not writing an article, and get the hell out of here.
So, I tried to just slam my way through The Fellowship of the Ring so I could go back to being angry, but that was hard to do since I was upset over a crime committed against a friend and this film is almost entirely concerned with evil. Specifically, a childish, cartoony view of evil that I think has little relation to our world. Aaaaand that’s why you’re still getting an article this week.
I didn’t say it would be a well-structured article, though. Here are thoughts about evil that made me grumble!
MEN DESIRE POWER:
The movie explicitly states that the race of Men desire power above all else. You hear that, human sitting at home? That desire’s just plain always a part of you! And it’s specifically based on what you were born as! Yes, there are human characters that don’t give in to this desire, but nevertheless, the deck is apparently already genetically stacked against them. What about Hobbits? We’ll get to that.
“I shall wait patiently, for I am just so kind and good-hearted.”
ONE CHANCE TO DESTROY EVIL FOREVER:
That heading is a direct quote. Isildur plunking the Ring into the volcano will destroy evil FOREVER. Sorry, that’s not how evil works. Evil is a complicated mess of all of humanity trying to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong and generally agreeing upon a good bit of it, but there will always be shitheads who try to get away with stuff. Thinking evil is a THING that you can just destroy is for babies. Fuck it, I’m going there, I hate any moral system that thinks evil is a substance or a living being or anything tangible that infects you or grabs you or gets all up in your soul space. Evil comes from thoughts and actions; it’s not a poison you can just cure.
YES IT IS, IT’S TOTALLY POISON, GET RID OF IT, AGGGHHH:
The narrator lady that’s probably Cate Blanchett says that the Ring poisoned Gollum’s mind. Whether she was trying to be poetic or meant it literally, everybody certainly treats the Ring like it’s gonna give them an evil rash or something. Gandalf loses his shit when Frodo tries to hand off the Ring; his argument is that he’s just too powerful to hold onto it, so it’s Frodo’s responsibility now. Uh… dick?
“DON’T TEMPT ME. Also, I have dinner reservations this weekend.
Thanks for doing me a solid, bro.”
You can tell me Tolkien hated allegory all you want, the fact remains that this idea must appeal to the audience on some level, that evil is a temptation you must avoid or it’ll rot you to the core. And as we all know, the best way to not commit evil is to a) run completely away from it and b) let somebody else handle it.
“Have fun with that!”
“But Bill,” you say because I made you up and you’re interested. “What if you replace the Ring with, say, black tar heroin? Surely the best way to not do black tar heroin is to get far away from black tar heroin?” Okay, but in this situation, you know what black tar heroin is (and even went to the Library of Drugs to read all about it) and now realize you’ve got a bag of it. If you can’t keep it in your pocket long enough to dispose of it properly or turn it over to the authorities, the problem is goddamn YOU.
“But Bill, MAGIC–” Shut up, Fake You, I get that in the movie it has the power to overtake people and do bad shit and Gandalf is acting somewhat logically, but the metaphor is directed at all the fans of Fellowship that would secretly love some black tar heroin but only avoid it because it wants to be inside them so bad and they’re just not pure enough to resist it.
Keep it secret. Keep it safe.
Here’s a little mental exercise I started during this viewing: look at the Ring as an IDEA, rather than an OBJECT. It could be any idea, so long as there’s a general societal agreement that there’s some badness to it. Murder, maybe? Alright, the Ring is the idea of murder. Gandalf’s been around. He’s seen all sorts of murders. Then he comes across the idea of trying out murder for himself. “Agh!” he thinks. “I know all about murder and I’m very powerful! I’d be SO good at it! I’m scared!” So he decides to leave the idea of murder with Frodo, who’s all innocent and has never even thought of taking a life. “Okay, this is what murder is, now hurry up and get rid of it, bye!” says Gandalf, instead of flipping a chair around backwards and talking about why murder is bad and why the both of them should never try it.
Gandalf is a parent who never talks to his kids. “Don’t put bad ideas in their heads, they won’t do them! Problem solved! Gimme that trophy for dadding! I just dadded so hard! Woo!”
I hate this view of morality so much. Am I, perhaps unfairly, personalizing a dumb magic plot device? You bet. Apologies for being angry when people don’t talk about prejudice or consent or basic human rights, because if we don’t talk about them, they must not be a problem! Shut up and watch the movie where being good is as easy as a field trip to a lava hole! You lead the way, Innocent Shut-In with the Hairy Feet–wait, I hate that, too.
“Aww, well, I still love you!” BUTTON IT.
HOBBITS ARE THE BEST BECAUSE WE SAY SO, THE END:
Oh, sweet, innocent little Hobbits, saviors of Middle-earth! Your particular group is just the bestest! I could pinch your morally decent little cheeks! Boy, Hobbits sure remind me of [insert religious, political, or social group you identify with here]! Us [that group] are just so good and noble and right about everything! I wish we had our own idyllic little Shire where nobody bothered us!
Welcome! Grab a robe and some powdered grape drink!
Yeah, fuck that. The world is messy and complicated and full of bad shit, but it’s not like Hobbits would know anything about it. Is that why they’re so noble, because of their sheltered existence? Are they all upstanding citizens because of their isolationism, or are they genetically prone to be as pure and kind-hearted and innocent as every character Jack McBrayer has ever played?
How did Peter Jackson never fit this guy for a pair of furry feet?
Anyway, if Frodo is a stand-in for the audience, then Frodo’s community is a stand-in for the audience’s community. And Hobbits are, without question (seriously, don’t question it, don’t even consider what people in other communities are doing), the most noblest of creatures, for reasons nobody ever really cares to explain at all.
Oh, except for the balding weirdo in the diaper that murdered somebody.
“I’m waiting for the CGI to get better before I kill again.”
Doesn’t Gollum kinda muck up the whole “Hobbits Rule, Anybody That Isn’t a Hobbit Has a Serious Issue With Drool” idea? Well, from a “this all represents the viewer’s peers” standpoint, no, not at all. Gollum is there to remind you that even those in your own ultra-righteous group can fall. Gollum is the politician you voted for that turned out to be stealing from charity. Gollum is the uncle that isn’t allowed to family reunions for reasons unknown. Gollum is the nice guy that stopped coming to church. So look out!
To be nice for a bit (and perhaps further taking a stand against rigid black-and-white thinking), I rather like that Gollum is a Hobbit. I just wish we had a scene where somebody asks Gandalf why he thinks Hobbits are automatically noble when Gollum exists. Maybe the old coot would finally admit he has no idea what the hell he’s talking about.
By the by, the fact that the entire story centers around Frodo leaving the Shire hasn’t entirely gone over my head. This is a story about confronting the world and its evils, about leaving the safety of your home and community… only to be rewarded by coming back to it and staying right the fuck there forever, thank you very much.
I WAS MEANT TO HATE THIS MOVIE:
I’ve got a couple other moral grumble spots in this flick, but I want to go out on this one. At one point, Gandalf tells Frodo: “Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”
Congratulations, Gandalf, you’re every asshole that tells a grieving person: “It was his time to go. Everything happens for a reason. God works in mysterious ways. Some fourth stupid thing.”
“He’s in a better place.
Away from you, is what I was implying.”
Any “this good thing was meant to happen” statement is instantly negated by the existence of unpleasant things that shouldn’t happen. If Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, then Sauron was meant to murder the everfucking fuck out of as many inhabitants of Middle-earth as he possibly could. Gandalf is the equivalent of that annoying relative who shares “if Bob hadn’t burnt his toast, he would have died in a horrible car crash” posts on Facebook. So everybody who did die in the crash deserved it? Were their deaths all “part of the plan”? Are people who find that sort of shit profound unable to comprehend chaos or simple cause-and-effect without–wait, if I keep going, we’re gonna get into Jurassic Park-y, Back to the Future-y stuff, and that was last year’s song and dance.
Aww. I miss last year.
ANYWAY, BOO, AND SUCH:
I’m not exaggerating when I say that, outside of religious literature, The Lord of the Rings may be my least favorite portrayal of evil in popular culture. I’m speaking only for the films, of course (though that will change very soon), but just about every other villain I can think of has a more complex, realistic reason for their evil than Sauron. Darth Vader, Doctor Doom, The Joker, The Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs–hell, even The Nothing from The NeverEnding Story, as vaguely, supernaturally, all-encompassingly evil as it is, is at least grounded in relatable existential terror.
LotR gives us a shiny little object that represents evil. Resist it, destroy it, life’s good.
“Dude, you dropped your quaint embodiment of unethical decisions again.”
This is not my evil. Evil is about discussion, debate, reflection, choice, and action. It’s not a magical cold that you catch from a metal-faced S&M horse.
“Saddle up, righteous ones!”
ONE THING THAT WOULD HAVE IMPROVED THE MOVIE:
I dunno, with such a long runtime, maybe a couple intermissions with PSAs on important ethical topics? Okay, maybe just run them after the feature presentation once we come back from our escapist fantasy world. No leaving early, though; this stuff’s important.