Film Denethor - a Discussion

by Rogorn and various, for Denethor Day

With everyone’s leave, I would ask for there to be one thread (humbly offering this one) where to put together all the views about ‘movie Denethor’, as that could be an interesting topic. This way, people can reply to each other more easily and it’s easier to find. Cheers.

Each person has a character about whom they feel disappointed with his/her film treatment. Frodo, Faramir and Arwen tend to be the most cited cases, but for me it’s Denethor. As you can read in another post on Tolkien’s words about him, he should be a character that is ‘not simple’ to judge. In my view the film puts him firmly with the baddies. Maybe to make him contrast with the ‘redeemed’ Théoden? Maybe to substitute for Saruman as chief stumbling block for the Fellowship in ROTK? Maybe to enhance Aragorn’s fitness to become king? Who knows. But the truth is that Denethor is not given a single grain of sympathy in the film.

The book doesn’t show him in his best moment either, but as we have more information, we can deal with him in another way. However, the films, in particular the ROTK EE, firmly go for the unexplainably evil behaviour, without giving reasons for it. Denethor is supposed to be a great man, as much as Aragorn, and it never shows at any time (appropriate that the actor playing him is called John Noble). I had hoped that by showing him using the palantír (or at the very least, someone saying a line that he has one), this could be remedied. But the EE actually made him worse. In particular, his continuous stumbling and falling around and his getting knocked around by Gandalf as a witless worm is a quite deplorable portrayal, putting him in the same league as Gríma, which is not appropriate.

It didn’t have to be this way, though. The movie character appeared when he should and died when he should according to the book. And he probably has a higher ratio of correct book lines than any other character in the trilogy. But the nuances, not a fault of the actor, were simply not played right by the film-makers.


Yeah I agree Rogorn... I mean... film Arwen, Fari and Frodo annoy me too at times... but they just gave Denny so little respect! He's supposed to be a really strong, noble, powerful character, one of the last of the Numenoreans in whom the blood of Elendil still ran true.

Book Denethor is an incredibly frightening, charismic, intense character. He draws you in, you can't help understanding him, and personally I always related to him with a mixture of pity and horror. But there's something else as well... respect. I have to respect him because he is so strong, even when he thinks he has lost everything, when he feels he is surrounded by traitors, he is still dangerous. And think.... in spite of looking into the palantir, he is still defiant, still proud. I don't know if this makes him stronger than Saruman, but it is a worthy question to think about.

Gandalf said "He is not as other men of this time." And Pippin saw something of Aragorn in him. I've always thought that there are three characters in LOTR who's memory remains with anyone who has read the books, simply because they are the most complex, most origional, and most powerful characters ever. These three characters were Gollum, Eowyn, and Denethor. None of them are your typical heros. Indeed Gollum and Denethor are often seen as "Bad Guys" but yet they are the characters who I remember. They come across so powerfully on the page, not because they're "Good Guys" but because they are powerfully, dramatically, fatally flawed. In this I think that they are the BEST characters. They may not be everyone's favourites, Denethor is corrupt - I'm not denying it. But this gives him a power over a reader. Suicidal though he is, he has incredible charisma!

Movie Denethor had none of this. He was a two dimensional, caricature, simply another "Baddie" to be overcome. A lot of people ended up cheering when Shadowfax karate-kicked him into a bonfire. I didn't. I thought that Gandalf's treatment of Denethor was degrading, far beneath the Gandalf of Tolkien's books, who still hoped for Denethor's redemption.

The way in which his relationship with Pippin was depicted was wrong too. In the book there was a real connection between them, and their mutual love for Boromir bound them together, almost in a father-son relationship as Merry has with Theoden. In the films, the ONLY point where this is for an instant visible is the point where Denethor says the line about "Fealty with love.." and lifts Pippin's face so that he meets his eyes.

In short, Dennethor is just never treated with the respect that he deserves. What Prim jokingly refers to as "The Steward-ejection chute" is (IMHO) one of the worst in a series of character crimes, and only serves to demean further one of the greatest characters ever written. It was entirely unnecessary. Denethor's enraged, despairing suicide under the influence of the palantir as written in the books was so much more powerful!

I don't understand, or like what the filmakers did to Denethor. He was always one of Tolkien's proudest characters, and to treat him like this is so appalling, it is almost laughable.

WOW! Shocked I'm sorry! I should never have started this post! Embarassed I do tend to get carried away about poor old Denny don't I?! I'm sorry... I just can't help it.... I've always loved him.


Film Denethor (like much of the Gondorian army) is stripped of his nobility by the film.

Denethor held the line against Mordor for years. In the book he is obviously preparing for battle by evacuating women and children

(one of the things I screech at the film for ... Why if there are a hundred thousand orcs outside the gate haven't you moved the women and children to the upper levels before the gate is broken? It's not like they magically appeared on the doorstep. You could see them coming for miles.... but I digress)

The effect of the information Denethor is allowed to view through the palantir has a tremendous effect on his "emotional well-being" but the only reference in the movie is "The eyes of the White Tower are not blind" which unless you are a book reader may not be understood.


Yes..I agree..although Denethor was not fair in the end, he was not a bad guy.
He was the Steward of Gondor and he had a task, he wasn't there to take the place of the king, I don't even think he had that intention.
It was what I believe that after all those years, there was no hope of the return of a king, and Denethor wanted to keep the white city as it was.
He was not cruel or harmful to his people.
It was the evil force that he felt and when he heard that Sauron's orcs were taking every city, he decided to fight..but he was desperate!!
He didn't know how to stop them and Boromir was strong and proud just like his father, so when Denethor heard about the ring, he decided that this was his last chance to defeat the evil of Mordor..but he was wrong about the ring.  He also had a palantir according to the books, and I think that it was a kind of mistake he made..but after all he was a human.  So when he looked at the palantir he saw what was coming and after all the efforts he made to stop it, he also heard about the return of the king..
It's not quiet clear why he became so desperate with it.. but I think it has to do with Sauron..
Tell me if I'm wrong or if you disagree, but I personally think that sauron had told him about Aragorn and told him that his days would be over..
I think that it's one of the reasons why he became so desperate..
He was for sure not a bad guy at all..although we have the intention to think so, because he would burn his own son, but I think that there's more about it and if we read the books,we will learn more about him..
So my opinion is that he was a strong man..maybe a bit too servere..but he was not a bad guy at all.


I was also disappointed in film Denethor for many reasons. To me, Denthor was basically a good man at heart who unfortunately, let his grief, pride and suspious nature become his downfall. He did light the beacons so he wasn't above asking for help. I believe he did think that himself and Boromir were "better" than all other men. He had flaws like every other person does. I think he resisted all of Gandalf's advice (which he knew in his heart and mind was correct) because he had convinced himself that Gandalf wanted to rule over Gondor (himself or through another). There was hope for Denethor even after the loss of Boromir until the moment he realized that his selfishness, pride and stubborness had "killed" his only remaining son whom he would never be able to tell how much he really did love him. Out of desperation and guilt he looked in the palantir and his mind and will were completely overthrown by his own dispair. I find this tragic. He, like Saruman, could have done so much good if he could've overcome his own pride. Denethor had been a noble man once; he just couldn't overcome his pride and grief. Movie Denethor was shown too weak, imho. He slobbered over his food, which was gross and very undignified. He should've been shown with the palantir and then said the lines about the eyes of the white tower...etc. I think that showing him with the palantir would've at least shown why he "fell from grace" instead of implying that he was just an evil man, which he wasn't. OK, novel over. Just my thoughts, feel free to disagree.


For me, one of the most effective scenes in ROTK was Pippin singing, Denethor eating THAT tomato, whilst Faramir rides to certain death. A gorgeous, devestating sequence that so subtley suggests all the ruin of war,the fallibility of man, and the bitterness of loss.
It is a scene that illustrates Denethor's terrible pride and the decay of Gondor -but it also suggests gluttony and ignorance, not the Steward of Gondor.

I can see how PJ had to simplify Denethor for the sake of the movie, but Denethor was sacrificed for some silly, gratuitous scenes for the 'fans'. Like Legolas killing the mumakil, or the 5 minutes the fellowship spend bouncing on Frodo's bed. That time could have been used to build on the story of Denethor.

The thing that most affronted me was that they characterised him as such a weak man. He exists merely as a prop that has to be done away with so that Aragorn can claim authority. I was disgusted that Gandalf just came and clunked him one on the head.
In the book, Denethor is weak, but out of fear for Gondor's future, because he challenged the Dark Lord in the palantir, because he forsees the downfall of his great country and is powerless to stop it. Not because he suddenly looks down, and -oh man! Suddenly 100,000 orcs are clamouring at the walls. Couldn't he HEAR them coming?!

The worst thing was the 'steward-ejection chute'. When I saw that in the cinema, people laughed and cheered. I mean, was it meant as light relief?

But enough negativity - John Noble was excellent, and Ngila got his robes perfect. And I agree with Ev.The moment where he says he will reward 'fealty with love...'gives me shivers. He gives poor Pip a look like he knows everything that goes on.