Alas for Faramir

by Varda

In the current issue of the fanclub magazine Peter Jackson answers a fan's question as to why he changed the character of Faramir so much from the book thus;

'We felt that the problem with Faramir's character that was presented to us straight out of the pages of the book was the fact that he is able to shrug off the ring too easily. There is no conflict with Faramir; He essentially captures the Hobbits very quickly and in the book, he turns around and lets them go. He has an opportunity to take the Ring but he shrugs it away with seeming ease and says;' If I saw this thing lying along the side of the road, I wouldn't even pick it up..'The simple premise that our movies hinge on is ; The ring is so potently powerful that anyone who comes into contract with it is going to be one way or another affected by it. We felt that Faramir's attitude would in the minds of a cinema audience and certainly one that was unfamiliar with JRR Tolkien give the feeling that the Ring had suddenly lost its potency and its strength...'

Now, I love the film version of The Two Towers and I had accepted that Faramir had to undergo some changes for the sake of the whole film, but this is a most unsatisfactory answer. It looks as if PJ did not 'get' the character of Faramir, and certainly misread the episode in Ithilien. Faramir does not simply turn round and let Frodo go. He exerts all his intelligence and powers of persuasion to get the truth out of the hobbit in a battle of wits which is far from lacking in tension or conflict. The 'trial' scene where he questions Frodo is certainly one of the most visually dramatic in the book.

Faramir is tempted; he just does not put on a placard saying 'I AM BEING TEMPTED'. When he says he would not take the Ring, he is acknowledging, sadly, that it has done its worst to him already by killing his brother, and that has burned all desire out of this man. The ring knows that, and moves on.

I think that the character of Faramir in the book is so attractive it would take the shine off the main characters, and I still think PJ was a bit afraid of Faramir. But why? spectacular cameos often make films; everyone remembers Robert Duval's Wagner-loving Colonel Kilgore in Apocalypse Now even when they can't remember Brando's Kurtz; scene-stealing does not diminish films, it enriches them.

PJ also misunderstands the way the Ring exerts its power in the book. He says;
'in the Two Towers the Ring is hardly featured at all; Frodo doesn't put it on; he doesn't come across anyone other than Faramir...we felt it would basically contradict everything we tried to establish in the FOTR if our only 'Ring encounter ' in TTT was one that is effectively shrugged away...'

This is baffling; 'Frodo doesn't come across anyone other than Faramir..' What about Gollum? In fact, the encounter with Gollum shows with terrifying clarity the power of the Ring. The scene where Gollum abases himself before the 'Master of the Precious' says more about the power of the Ring than all the rolling of eyes and sfx wailing employed elsewhere in the film to impart a sense of its deadly attraction.

In the book Tolkien conveys the power of the Ring through delination of character. It does not have a resident banshee that screeches at everyone who passes. PJ had a great set of actors, I think they could have conveyed the lure of the ring quite well simply by doing their stuff, as in the scene where Bilbo is shown arguing with Gandalf over leaving the Ring in Bag End. The most chilling aspect of TTT is really the accelerating disingegration of Frodo, well brought to screen by Elijah Wood but only obscured by making the Ring's power so theatrical.

Also it is not really necessary to keep pointing out the power of the ring. 10,000 Uruk-hai are tramping across the screen solely because of the power of the ring, I think even the junior members of the audience and those unaquainted with Tolkien can draw the conclusion that it is a Very Powerful Thing.

These are minor quibbles with a film I love, but I think they are potential weaknesses. PJ seemed to have a rather weary exasperated tone in replying which suggests that although he has been asked this question before he has not substantially altered his interpretation of Faramir in Return Of The King, so this is the cinematic version that we have to make do with, and it does not do justice to the character in the book.

This being an epic film PJ was perhaps anxious to drive the message home with no danger of misunderstanding, and so lost the power of subltety and understatement. I think he could have trusted the audience more, used his actors more and above all taken a chance with Faramir.

Just musing, no offence to any fans of PJ or Faramir