Were you a Friend of Boromir?

by Varda

In this ongoing debate over how well or badly PJ's films interpret the books of Tolkien, I suggest it might be helpful to compare this process to how plays are brought to the stage.

Film as a medium is much closer to drama; it is 'live' in that it is played out in a continuous sequence that the audience experiences all at once (unless the film breaks)and it has real people, actors, impersonating the characters on the page.

We think of plays as literature, and often read plays that we never see performed, so they are very like LOTR, something formed in our minds by the written word. And yet when you see a play performed several times you realise there are as many possible ways to act it out as there are performances. Every director gives it a different tone and meaning.

Every Hamlet I have seen was different, yet they said the very same words. Some were set in decadent courts, some emphasised the military background, some the aspect of civil war, some the black humour.

The Lord of The Rings is like Hamlet; it has a universal, protean quality, not exactly all things to all men (or women) but appealing to everyone, because even the most minor character has a depth and complexity which means we can see some sympathetic quality in them that endears them to us. And yet none of them, even Gollum or Grima, yield up their whole truth to us. There is something kept back by every Tolkien character, so we might think we have grasped the whole truth of that character but we only ever get close to the mark; these people always surprise us, as do the best literary creations.

That is why it is dangerous to criticise someone's 'take' on these characters, for no take is definitive, and all can be justified or at least defended from the text.

For example, look at the scene in the Two Towers where Faramir questions Frodo, and asks him was he a friend of Boromir;

'Vividly before Frodo's mind came the memory of Boromir's assault upon him, and for a moment he hesitated. Faramir's eyes watching him grew harder.
'Boromir was a valiant member of our Company,'
said Frodo at length
'Yes, I was his friend, for my part.'

Here we see Faramir uncharacteristically ruthless and hard, and Frodo uncharacteristically dishonest. So how should an actor act this scene or a director direct it?

In PJ's film, Elijah Wood says the words clearly, but with a tiny tremor that almost betrays him, and he is looking anxiously at Faramir as he has smelt a rat and guesses the questioning is going in a bad direction. He is also guilty; he has not thought once about what happened to Boromir since he escaped from him, and now here he is among Boromir's people desperately trying to think of some way to conceal the fact that Boromir attacked him.

Elijah conveys it all; but what would another actor, and director, have done with it?

Think about Marlon Brando, in his prime, directed by Elia Kazan;

Direction; Frodo walks round the cave, fists clenched, head down. At last he puts a hand on the wall and leans against is, staring moodily out of the cave. Faramir has to wait a long time. At last Frodo-Brando turns and mumbles;
'Friend? Yeah....I coulda been his friend......for my part....'

Or Laurence Olivier, in his prime (directing himself, of course);

Direction; sits looking at Faramir with an enigmatic smile. Then the smile vanishes and his eyes flash. He gets to his feet and turns away. Then he whirls round and stretches out his arm, pointing at Faramir and shouts;
'Friend! I was such a friend.....' the arm drops and the smile returns. He adds in a quiet voice;
'..for my part...'

And finally, the disaster that could have been John Travolta as Frodo directed by Quentin Tarantino;

Travolta-Frodo wearing black suit and white shirt with slicked down hair lights cigarette and paces up and down eyeing Faramir.

'Friend? Whaddya talking about, bumpkin? I mean, Bor and I were brothers, understand, brothers! I mean, we were like that (gesture of togetherness) I mean, sure he made some moves I found it hard to take. In fact, he tried to shake me down, but I handled it, man. I'm a professional! '

Then he stops and says to Faramir;
'Are we cool on this, man?'

Let's be grateful we got Pj....