Donut Age: America's Donut Magazine

ROTK and evil

I didn't get around to writing about it when I saw it (back around Christmas), but the stunning Oscar sweep by The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King is as good an excuse for reviewing the film as any. By simply not sucking, ROTK is easily the best end-of-a-trilogy I have ever seen, and I dare say it's a good bit better. The loving care with which Peter Jackson and Co. recreated the world of Middle Earth separates it from the usual fantasy dreck that gets made, as does the non-absurd plot. In short, I liked it. But given my screed a while back about the glorification of war, I've been wondering why I don't find ROTK offensive on the same grounds. I'm not sure if I have a sufficient answer, but the answer I do have has to do with evil.

Some have complained that the Lord of the Rings trilogy is a simplistic good-vs-evil story with morally black and white characters. That's true if you look at, say, Gandalf vs. Sauron. But the real conflict in LOTR is not with the external enemy, but an internal one. Despair (seen repeatedly in paralyzed leaders like Theoden and Denethor), pride (Saruman), and of course the temptation of absolute power represented by the Ring itself: these are the real enemies in LOTR. Moreover, for all the fairy-tale happy-endingness of the movie, there is tragedy as well. Frodo, the nominal hero of the story, is permanently scarred (literally and figuratively) by his victory. Unlike any of the other "fellows," he can never re-integrate with society until finally, unable to live in that world, he chooses to "retreat." That's a sobering antidote to the usual defeat-the-bad-guy-and-get-the-princess plot found in the fantasy genre (and Hollywood films in general).

In short, there are subtleties here that undercut the overt Glory-of-War scenes and so make me feel like less of a hypocrite for having enjoyed, and indeed, having been moved by the film.

Other Reviews: Flickwerk (liked it); Grey Notebook (didn't).