If you happened to read my previous post, “In the Shadow of ‘The Ring’,” you know I’m not the biggest fan of Tolkien. And, if you haven’t read that then, well, now you know: Tolkien and I don’t get along. But Peter Jackson and I? We have a much better relationship. Sure, his films can be overlong and easily criticized as “indulgent,” but there’s no denying he did something amazing with his film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings. In a time when fantasy was not selling well onscreen, Jackson undertook what could be considered one of the biggest and most ambitious film projects in the history of the business, to craft what would ultimately become both a critically and commercially successful fantasy film trilogy. With an overall budget somewhere around $300-million, The Lord of the Rings film trilogy grossed a grand total of almost $3-billion which, when unadjusted for inflation, makes it the bestselling film trilogy of all time. Not only that, the films walked away with a combined 17 Academy Awards; the third film, The Return of the King, currently sits in a 3-way tie with Ben-Hur and Titanic for most awards won for a single film.
But on a more personal note, Jackson made me actually enjoy Tolkien’s trilogy. Shocking, I know. But, as with any adaptation — especially of something perceived as a “classic” — there have been many controversies over the various adaptive changes from books to films within Jackson’s cinematic trilogy. One in particular even garnered its own, ire-filled name amongst purist detractors: “Filmamir.”
“Filmamir” — or, the film version of Faramir — as portrayed by actor David Wenham, represents one of Jackson’s greatest deviations from the source material: a combination of imagination and a need to balance the pacing of the storytelling within the cinematic trilogy. Faramir’s storyline, therefore, especially within the Two Towers film, is largely the invention of Jackson and the three other screenwriters.
And, quite frankly, not only do I like the change, but I think it improves upon the original material.
In the world of purists, this is a borderline sacrilegious sentiment, but let me stress again that I do not worship at the temple of the cult of Tolkien. So why do I think “Filmamir” improved over Faramir? Well, not only was “Filmamir” a more three-dimensional character, but Jackson doubled-down upon Fellowship’s initial narrative promise of the One Ring’s menace, something which Tolkien, shockingly enough, fails to do.
The way I see it, if the One Ring is going to be your shiny gold McGuffin of doom, you need to be consistent in its perceived danger or power. This thing is dangerous, infecting and poisoning the mind of anyone that encounters it. And I do mean anyone. This is thematically important, as it not only makes the One Ring all the more dangerous than it could have been — NO ONE IS SAFE! — but it doesn’t make it just, say, a rich man’s weapon or a poor man’s vice. This mythological nuance is something that I noted in my aforementioned post that was taken directly from Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen opera cycle, and actually made both narratives notedly modern stories: fantastical ideations of the premise that possession of a single piece of technology could endow even the lowliest of peons with god-like amounts of power. Of course, as Sir John Dalberg-Acton famously said:
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The One Ring is the great equalizer in that regard. Even Samwise Gamgee, arguably the most noble of all the characters in Tolkien’s trilogy, experiences this. Believing Frodo to be dead, Sam bore the Ring himself for a short time and experienced the temptation it induced; he not only wore the chain on which hangs around his neck, but actually wore the One Ring itself in order to hide from Orcs in Shelob’s lair (The Two Towers). Again, Sam only wears the Ring for a relatively short amount of pages, and yet when it comes time for him to return it to Frodo in The Return of the King, we read that:
Now it had come to it, Sam felt reluctant to give up the Ring…
(Return of the King, 213)
Samwise felt reluctant to give up the One Ring — to relinquish the power and burden of the shiny gold, fantastical power-centre. Again, Tolkien tells us that no one is safe from temptation of the One Ring. Yes, I will accept the argument that not everybody succumbs to that power, but the One Ring maintains a corruptive sphere of influence because it tempts everyone, whether it be characters who never even wear the One Ring, such as Aragorn or Gandalf, or those who are considered ring-bearers like Frodo and Sam. There is not — or, at least, should not — those who escape that, because this is what Tolkien has established, even with his (again, arguably) most noble character — the one that many believe to be the true hero of The Lord of the Rings.
Which is why I find Faramir in the original novels not only baffling, but entirely inconsistent with Tolkien’s in-world mythos of the corruptive power of the One Ring. For an author who gets hailed as this incredible world-builder, the character of Faramir stands out as this strange, counter-intuitive misstep, because every person who encounters the Ring — and even more so if they’re a ring-bearer — experiences its temptation.
Introduced in The Two Towers, Faramir is the younger brother of the late-Fellowship member, Boromir, and, thus, one of the sons of Denethor II, Steward of Gondor. He encountered Frodo and Sam during their quest to bring the One Ring to Mordor after their separation from the rest of the Fellowship. Faramir, understandably, interrogates Frodo about the nature of his secretive “quest” as well as information about Boromir. To Frodo’s credit, the hobbit does not reveal the nature of his need to get to Mordor, but Faramir’s a bright guy and he deduces the answer anyway. Admittedly, it doesn’t hurt that Sam, in relating information about Boromir, accidentally gives away the part about the One Ring when describing Boromir’s desire for it — Sam, you’re lovely, but you did kind of let the cat out of the bag there.
Given the previously-established corruptive power of the One Ring, and its well-known history of infecting those around it with a kind of insatiable greed for it, you would think that Faramir takes advantage of the chance to use the power of this object in some way; that he, understandably, comes under the sway of our shiny gold McGuffin of doom. Except, that’s exactly what doesn’t happen. In a heavy-handed attempt to contrast Faramir with Boromir, the younger brother says:
“But fear no more! I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory.” (The Two Towers, 656)
Really? Not even if it lay by the highway, Faramir? Excuse me while I call bullshit on that sentiment.
Everything about this conversation is wrong. First off, not only does it fly in the face of all that we have read up to this point on the danger of the One Ring’s corruptive sphere of influence, but the reader cannot help but wonder: why isn’t this guy taking the One Ring to Mordor instead? I mean, hey, if it’s nothing more than easily-ignored trash on the highway with zero sway over him, I’d say you just found your perfect ring-bearer. Frodo, you’re fired.
I understand what Tolkien was attempting on a thematic level, but it just does not work according to his own in-world rules. Frankly, I feel that you could create an entire post on how Tolkien doesn’t follow his own in-world mythos when it comes to the One Ring, but we’re not going to do that here. This specific interaction — the “Faramir Problem,” as I like to call it — is highly troublesome, and Jackson and his screenwriters, thankfully, saw the same problem when adapting Tolkien’s trilogy.
While the primary impetus for the creation of Frodo and Sam’s detour to Osgiliath within the Two Towers film is a way to keep the narrative pacing of the films — as well as keep multiple timelines in sync — the “sea-green incorruptible” nature of Faramir was rightfully noticed by screenwriter Phillipa Boyens a something that would not “[translate] well filmically” (Two Towers commentary). I like to think of that as a nice way of saying that it doesn’t even make sense when you read it, so it’ll be even worse on a visual level. The original Faramir is, just as actor David Wenham described him, “dramatically dead,” so the writing team behind the films breathed some new life into his film counterpart.
Faramir and the Ithilien Rangers do still capture Frodo, Sam, and Gollum after their separation from he Fellowship, and Faramir does still interrogate Frodo about both his quest and Boromir. However, right off the bat, the entire interaction is far darker than Tolkien’s original. There’s some teeth to Faramir, and Gollum actually suffers a beating at the hands of the Rangers. We’re meant to feel off-balance and a little afraid for Frodo — Towers is setting up Faramir to fall into the same trap as his older brother did in the previous film. There’s a tragic mirror-imagery to the situation, compounded upon by Faramir taking the three hostages to Osgiliath in a parallel to the same road that Boromir’s own Ring-fueled desires drove him: bring the Ring to Minas Tirith, and his people, so that it can be used to help.
The sons of Denethor seem to have forgotten that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions — and let’s be clear: the intentions of both Boromir and Faramir are not bad. They wanted to save their people from the evils of Mordor, and both see the One Ring as the ultimate means by which to achieve this.
In Osgiliath, Faramir gets to see (in violent, dramatic fashion) the power of the hold of the One Ring, starting with Sam stepping up to chew our Faramir, saying:
“You want to know what happened to Boromir? Do you want to know why your brother died? He tried to take the Ring from Frodo, after swearing an oath to protect him! He tried to kill him! The Ring drove your brother mad.” (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers)
Faramir’s expression conveys a lot in but a few seconds of film during this sequence — a combination of rapture and horror. Knowing how and why his brother died is one of of those things he wants most, and hearing that he is walking down the very same path of destruction clearly puts the current situation in sharp perspective. If Sam’s outburst is a sentence, then Frodo’s behaviour as he succumbs to the Ring in the presence of the Nazgul is the punctuation. Faramir’s epiphany is complete, and that is how he is able to transcend the mistakes of his brother and find the will within himself to resist the temptation of the One Ring and let the hobbits go.
The argument can be made that the contrast, then, between Boromir and Faramir is not as stark as it was in the books, and I’d agree…because the contrast that Tolkien created was flawed, flouting his own in-world logic. In the film, Faramir’s temptation by the One Ring maintains the object’s menace and corruptive power, because it is only through great effort and a kind of violent epiphany that he is able to escape the same fate of his brother (i.e. death).
Faramir’s temptation, as a result, is all the more powerful than his original’s easy dismissal of the Ring, because it shapes him as a more complex and believable character. Man is corruptible, and yet can also overcome that to come to his senses, all without stripping the One Ring of its corruptive power. Yeah, that thing is dangerous, and Faramir both sees and, more importantly, experiences it for himself. That’s what was missing from Tolkien’s original, and Jackson’s decision not only created a beautiful, dramatic moment while fleshing out Faramir’s character, but maintained the in-world mythos of the shiny gold McGuffin of doom as all-corrupting, no matter who encounters it.
In the end, while the Jackson films certainly aren’t without problems, I don’t think “Filmamir” is one of them. I think he ended up being one of the strongest adaptive changes made from book to film.
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