WHEN: June 20, 2014, 10:52am. (Week 25, June 15-21.)
WHERE: In the living room of my apartment in Portland, ME.
FORMAT: Blu-ray on a Vizio 47″ LCD HDTV.
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Eating cereal. Just finished reading the Ring of Gyges section of Plato’s The Republic.
PREVIOUSLY ON CINEMA 52:
If you read my last article on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, I got all pissy about the film’s portrayal of evil, dismissing it as both cartoonishly uninteresting and an entirely backward way of looking at human nature. And, like he usually does, Cinemanaut John put in his two cents and gave me some extra homework. You see, he thinks the moral lesson behind the One Ring makes perfect sense in the context of the Ring of Gyges. And I totally knew what that was because I’m super-smart and have a lot of sex.
Okay, but seriously, the What of What?
THE RING OF GYGES, SUCKA:
The Ring of Gyges is… holy fuck, a ring that turns you invisible? From The Republic, written by Plato in 380 BCE? Tolkien, you thieving shit!
“Plato? Never heard of him.”
Okay, I’m not going to pick a side in the “rip-off vs. coincidence” debate; supposedly Tolkien never personally answered the question of whether or not he was inspired by Plato’s Ring of Gyges (and may never have been asked), and he reportedly only mentioned the philosopher by name exactly once in the entirety of his writings, and that was in reference to Atlantis.
Alright, whatever, it’s an invisibility ring. Anybody could come up with that. So, I decided to read the Gyges section of The Republic prior to today’s viewing of The Fellowship of the Ring and look for further similarities between the two.
TOLKIEN, YOU THIEVING SHIT:
“Republic? I’m sorry, I have no clue what you’re talking about.”
Okay, the Ring of Gyges is all about resisting the temptation to use it in order to commit immoral acts. Come the fuck on. I can practically hear Boromir reading Plato’s words aloud.
Do the voices!
The concepts are similar, but the stories differ. The Ring of Gyges is found by a lowly shepherd on the finger of a dead guy; he puts it on and thinks nothing of it, but later discovers that if he turns it a certain way, boom, invisibility powers. He uses it to “seduce” the queen (I’m gonna guess that’s a watered-down translation) and murder the king, taking the throne for himself. Total dick, right? Anyway, things get interesting when Plato suggests that if there were two rings, you could give one to a just person and one to an unjust person and get the exact same result: evil. Why? Because deep down inside our weak human hearts, we all agree: the best possible way to live is to commit unjust actions while appearing to be just.
Plato, you went to your dark place again.
Already Lord of the Rings is on pretty shaky ground as a retelling of the Gyges parable, for one major reason: turning you evil isn’t a result of the freedoms that One Ring invisibility grants, it’s an entirely separate feature. The Ring of Gyges by itself is just a piece of jewelry that does a neat trick. Any evil carried out with it is strictly user error, and that human element, that the will to do shitty things is ultimately on you, is the kind of morality I like in my stories.
Hey, isn’t it kind of odd that the One Ring’s powers are seemingly unrelated? It renders you invisible and, oh yeah, also, it’s addictive and can turn you into a bad guy. Plus, you can use it to make a bunch of pasty weirdos do stuff.
I dunno, an object that turns you invisible and coincidentally also pumps you full of evil sounds like a juvenile understanding of the Ring of Gyges. I can see a kid skimming Plato and not understanding why the ring boosts someone’s potential to act unjustly. When Plato claims anybody who had the ring would just plain turn evil, a child (who considers himself pure of heart) could easily interpret an uncontrollable infection of wickedness as a second magical function of the ring.
Did I just call Tolkien a child? Maybe.
HOW TO MAKE FELLOWSHIP A GYGES INTERPRETATION:
I should probably mention about now that I haven’t read The Fellowship of the Ring, and yes, you’re quite right, I haven’t earned all the Tolkien-bashing I’ve done so far and should promptly buttfuck myself with a rusty pitchfork. Nevertheless, the argument on the table is whether the film adaptation serves as a moral update of the Ring of Gyges thought experiment, and holy hell, no, ha ha ha, get out of here with that shit, not even close. Its biggest crime? Nobody ever uses the power of invisibility to do anything even remotely unethical over the course of The Fellowship of the Ring.
“I shall use it for surprise parties and absolutely nothing else!”
Here’s a complete list of unseeable moments in the film:
1) Bilbo pulls a little birthday stunt for a laugh. Category: shenanigans.
2) Frodo trips and the Ring lands on his finger. Category: oops. (Also, defiance of probability.)
3) Frodo puts on the Ring for a tactical advantage when the Ringwraiths approach (though friend-of-the-blog Hannah claimed their presence supernaturally forces Frodo to put it on). Category: self-defense (possible mind control).
4) Frodo goes clear to escape from Boromir roughing him up. Category: self-defense.
No offense, but if you convinced me to watch Fellowship with just the words “invisibility powers,” that is a suck list of transparency adventures. And I have seen my fair share of stupid invisibility movies.
The ability to remove Jessica Alba from any scene?
Way better than anything in Fellowship.
To go full Gyges, get that “supernatural craving to do evil” out of the picture entirely; addiction to the Ring should be based around how awesome becoming invisible is. Show Frodo heading down a path towards evil step by step. First he spooks Sam, tee hee. Then he eavesdrops on a conversation. Then he steals a tiny bit of food, but come on, he was starving, he needed it, what’s the harm? Then HE’S KILLED FIFTY ELVES, WHAT THE FUCK, FRODO, GET RID OF THAT THING, YOU’VE GONE MAD WITH POWER, okay, probably not that.
Let’s cap it at forty-nine Elves.
Sure, you’d have to move some other story points around. You could still keep the ability to control the Ringwraiths, I guess. I don’t really see what Gollum would want invisibility for, though. Wait, what the fuck am I talking about? Send Hollow Gollum on a murder spree through the countryside. Make him the See-Through King of some terrified village. Cave Gollum sucks. Ugh, do I have to do all the legwork make this shit rule?
Anyway, hands down, Fellowship, you fail as an exploration of the Ring of Gyges concept. But you know who wins?
HERBERT GEORGE MOTHERFUCKIN’ WELLS, THAT’S WHO:
It’s no secret that I love H. G. Wells, though I never really thought The Invisible Man was as clever as The Time Machine or The War of the Worlds. I’m not sure why it didn’t resonate with me; perhaps it felt more like a horror story than science fiction, and one that didn’t even scare me that much.
Floaty bandages, agh!
Of course, I read The Invisible Man when I was a dumb teenager, and I thought of Griffin as just a character to run from, not a character to relate to… and be utterly terrified at that fact. Now that I’ve read up on the Ring of Gyges, I see that The Invisible Man is much smarter than I gave it credit for. This is the tale about the addictive power of doing wrong and getting away with it. It’s a true meditation on Plato’s idea of perceived goodness and the inner desire to do evil when given the means, while The Fellowship of the Ring mucked up the details along the way and continues to be a dumbed-down fantasy film with an immature view of evil as a malevolent supernatural force that infects us. A continued boo to you, movie, and to Cinemanaut John, you were wrong, you big poop-head.
Man, I really should read The Fellowship of the Ring. I think it’s time.
ONE THING THAT WOULD HAVE IMPROVED THE MOVIE:
A dialogue between Frodo and the Invisible Man.