Viggo's Aragorn

by Rogorn

When mulling about LOTR I always have very present that the New Line films are only a re-working, a version, an instrument that has probably brought many people to the original source: the book. And I’m careful to keep both separate. However, the enormous merit of the films has actually put things into my imagination as reader. Now, when reading the book again, it is inevitable to imagine the cast members speaking the lines that never made it into the film, for example.

In this light, one of my favourite things about the films is Viggo Mortensen’s portrayal of Aragorn. I’d say that Ian McKellen’s Gandalf is arguably the only character that is nailed to be exactly like the book (with Saruman maybe), but I just have to love Viggo.

I know of him from way back. He speaks Spanish with an Argentinian accent which, I understand, is quite popular with the ladies. To me it’s surprising he hasn’t become a star before. That chin would have caused havoc in the way Kirk Douglas’s did (and that’s why Elessar’s beard doesn’t really suit him). I remember him from a Spanish film, funnily enough called Vigo (after the Spanish city where it happens, not after him), and from being the cast member sent over to promote things like Carlito’s Way, Daylight, GI Jane, Crimson Tide and A Perfect Murder. Of course, when you can’t get Al Pacino, Sylvester Stallone, Demi Moore, Gene Hackman or Michael Douglas to do promoting appearances, he was the one to do the boring work in my corner of the world.

Artwork previous to the film picture Aragorn as more rugged, less good-looking, and definitely scarier. In the book, the hobbits feel quite uneasy about him for quite a longer time. It takes some adjusting to see him in the role until we reach Weathertop, but from then on he grows into Strider all the time.

However, it’s quite peculiar that I have come to feel in that way more through the information on the dvd extras than through the film only. The performance itself is just adequate, and I mean it in a good way. It’s difficult to do better than him, but also difficult to do worse for any actor worth his salt. Aragorn is just not an Oscar-winning role, whoever plays it. The register he’s restricted to is very limited: the ultimate warrior on a mission. True, there are individual moments in which he can shine, like at the breaking of the Felloship, or even (dare I say it), in his scenes with Arwen.

His Strider is much better than his Elessar, though. I feel he lacks a commanding voice, and that makes him much better suited to the taciturn Ranger than to the King of Men. It says much about him, however, that he is able to come through the speech scene before the Morannon just fine.

Now, coming back to what I said about the dvd extras, I felt that the more you hear about Viggo, the more you see his adequacy for Aragorn’s role, even beyond the screen. For example, once you hear that he mended the clothes himself, or that he always carried his hero sword with him, you can see Viggo’s the Ranger character. Bob Anderson said he’s one of the best he ever worked with, and that’s high praise coming from a specialist who goes back to 1940’s swashbucklers who did their own stunts. Getting out of the plane and conforting the Nazgul in his first day? No problem. He takes it in his stride. Maybe that’s why they called him Strider.

Add to this that he made up the tune to the Lay of Lúthien himself, and that he nailed the pronunciation of Elvish and everyone’s names (this is a personal nitpick which I don’t expect anyone else to share. It’s an occupational hazard, like my nurse of a mother picking mistakes as she watches ER). That ease with languages and a working knowledge of music is something that Viggo showed and that I can imagine Aragorn having as he ranges to and fro.

How about the day they went fishing waiting for dawn to come so that they could shoot a scene? Or the breaking of his toe when kicking the Orcish helmet? I can easily imagine Aragorn doing the same in the book, then patch himself up quickly and still being able to earn his Wingfoot nickname, not to mention come through the Hornburg, the Paths of the Dead and the Pelennor without so much as a wince. And trooping through Helm’s Deep after breaking a tooth? Marvellous stuff. And to come back to the Arwen motif, once you see the care he took to work with his horse, you can understand how he can get away with the scene of the kiss of Arwen that turns into the horse. Wonderful presence.

Then, if you continue to superimpose Viggo’s image onto Aragorn, you’ll add his talents as a photographer and writer, for example, as a self-developed artist. In the book, Aragorn does make on-the-spot verses for Boromir, and I can feel Viggo being comfortable with it if he had needed it. Then, of course, Aragorn can’t be a photographer, but wouldn’t it suit him to have a good eye for painting and architecture and becoming a patron of the Arts once he’s King? I find that this image of Aragorn as a Renaissance man, able to master all trades and arts he sets his mind to, the best Man in war and the best Man in peace, enormously enhances his personality. He can’t have been a joyless brooder all his life. He must be able to enjoy the good things in life too. It probably doesn’t fit that during the long trek from Bree he’s seen taking a light moment or enjoying himself in any way, but in his 86 years before or the 123 after, he must have felt life worth living.

So, thanks, Viggo son of Arathorn. May you live 210 years too.