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