A Coherent Moral Universe

by DoctorGamgee & Varda

In response to Varda's 'pre-MerryDay' post regarding Van Helsing ...

First, let me state that everything that Varda said in her post is fairly accurate. There is a LOT of cgi, and the princess was very reminiscent of Arwen. I didn't really see the Aragorn/Van Helsing look-alike, but perhaps that is just because it reminded me more of Jackman as Leopold from Kate and Leopold than anything like Viggo's character.

Yet, I still liked the film. Not that it in any way compares to LOTR; the characters and infact the whole plot line were not deliniated at the outset, which was confusing. It would be like changing the opening of LOTR to begin with Frodo's ride to the fords -- action packed, but except for 'someone is being chased' not really enlightening. I think that this is why Varda found the characters hard to relate to -- and rightfully so.

However, one of the things that struck me, as I was witnessing the beginning of the film (an attack by vampires that is almost completely CGI, and relentless--I would guess almost 10 minutes), was that they just kept coming. One would be killed, and the next would appear--almost in the same frame. That there was no end in sight, but rather, it was the relentless struggle of Good versus Evil; something which the LOTR deals with. And perhaps it was this universal truth that I enjoyed.

The issue of power and its control is all over LOTR. From Saruman and Boromir, to Sauron and even the elves; the treatment of power and how each deals with this issue is the central point of the story. The elves are willing to 'diminish and go into the west.' Saruman is creating a new breed of orc to add to his power. Boromir is looking for a source of power for good (even though it would have turned him evil, as Galadriel shows us). And we know that Sauron was not the first or the worst 'Dark Lord.' He was following in the footsteps of his master, Morgoth. The most astonishing vision of this 'desire for power' is seen in the ring itself. It uses gollum to kill his friend and when it realizes that Gollum has no desire greater than to cause minor mischief in the hole of the goblins, it slips from his finger to escape, searching for a hand with the power to wield it to its fullest.

Now, I realize that many here are going to say, 'No, Dr.G, the ring was trying to get back to Sauron.' And indeed there is some truth in this, but there are things that the ring does which make such a simple answer hard to believe. For example, if it were trying to return to Sauron, it would tempt lesser people (i.e. Boromir) who when facing Sauron with the Ring would be unable to win, and thus it would indeed return to its master's hand. This scenerio I can buy. However, that leaves the question of Galadriel -- She states that were she to take the ring and use it, she would become the 'dark lady' equal to if not much worse than Sauron. So if the Ring was really trying to return to Sauron, why tempt someone who could destroy him? This doesn't make sense. Unless, the Ring was looking for the mightiest hand to wield its power (it was trapped by Gollum's petty desires and Frodo's lack of ambition). Thus, by tempting Gandalf, Galadriel, and Saruman, all of whom could arise of that level, it was making a grab for any great hand to wield it.

One of the universal truths (it seems) in the good of humankind, is that people want to be a part of something that is greater then themselves. That is why the highjump bar is raised only an inch at a time. We could do the last one, so by pushing ourselves just slightly beyond where we were, we can feel comfortable in achieving the goal, without great risk of failure that raising it a foot at a time would seem to create. Most of us would never think of auditioning for broadway, but we will do it for local shows, where we can participate and grow, but not be overwhelmed by the level of the true broadway talent. The universal truth about evil, is that it wants to insure that it has the highest level of achievement, and everyone else is subjugated below it. This is the great struggle of our lives as parents: we hope that our children have something slightly bigger than we do -- Better education, health, wealth, happiness -- yet never view the achievements of their parents as 'no big deal.'

These were the thoughts that came to my mind today, as I watched the opening scenes of Van Helsing; overwhelmed by the onslaught of unexplained CGI. It was not the same type of film that LOTR was, but it did make me think, and thus, falls into my category of 'good films.' By the end of the film, I wanted to go back and see what I had missed understanding during the opening. I will wait for the DVD, I am too cheap to see it again at the cinema. I just wanted to add my thoughts to the topic broached by Varda. That is why I like her posts: they make you think.




We wept, Precious....
Thanks, Doc! You make very interesting points.

the themes of power and good versus evil sit together rather uneasily in The Lord of The Rings. The Ring is evil, but what it really is could rather be called power personified; it gives you what you want, or what you think you want. When Gollum has the precious he is a miserable creature, deep in an underground cave, despised by all;
'we wept, precious, to be so alone...' yet thinking himself happy, hugging himself. he is happy clutching the Ring as he falls to his death.

Yet power can be good, as shown by Elrond, Galadriel, Gandalf and in the end by King Elessar. Although we are led to think Sauron is totally evil and the ring is his, Sauron is not a character in the book, so that equations means nothing in human terms, only if you believe that evil is an absolute, not an attribute. I am a relativist, and believe evil is what is done, not that it exists as a power. Tolkien seems to believe in absolute evil, for he gives no way back to those who fall to evil, Saruman, Grima, even Boromir may have second thoughts but they are doomed from the moment they fall; they have crossed the line into black.

That was why I was bored by the way the film Van Helsing treated evil. It is literally black and white. The goodies being bombarded by absolute evil I found a drag. And you cannot keep up this scenario; the 'good' villagers are an ignorant bunch of violent thugs. Frankenstein's 'bad' monster is a beautiful person. Dracula is still fascinating, as he was in the book centuries ago, an entity who could use his power to set things right, but is never given the chance to, or to free himself from his own misery, as he was in the much better film by Coppola.

I am not sure pure evil exists. Galadriel sees Boromir is bound for his own destruction but she does not use her power to save him (as Faramir saw; 'what did the Lady say to you?' he says to Frodo) So, is she evil? She is from a certain point of view. Grima is obviously twisted from his true self by Saruman, so is he evil? Frodo thought not. Was Frodo tainted by evil because at the last he 'fails' and puts on the Ring? I don't think so but Tolkien called him a failure. Was his failure the failure to resist evil?

These are tough verdicts and do not suit the conditions of real people who must live by hard choices and need a second chance to come back and redeem themselves.

So what, one might say, this is fantasy. But actually Tolkien gives us a coherent moral universe very like our own, so these things matter.

Thanks for your reply, Doc!