"LOTR: Return Of The King"
Director: Peter Jackson
Diana Takata

Lord of The Rings: Return Of The King is, as most every human being on the face of the planet knows, the last installment of the trilogy from director Peter Jackson. Seen strictly as an entertainment, it is in many ways the most satisfying of the three films. And yet on another level the film was, for me, quite thought provoking and profound.

The full weight and power of the LOTR phenomenon may not be fully known for years, when historians and film theorists have a chance to chew on the significance of the films: how they seemed to bookend the Sept. 11 and Iraq war tragedies, with September 11 beginning the cycle and the capture of Saddam Hussein ending it. It is enough to make one believe in cosmic synchronicity. As a film, The Return Of The King is satisfying because of its attention to character and the "human" (or human-like) aspects of the story. It is ironic that we must turn to complete fantasy in order to discover our humanity, while films like Monster (also reviewed in this issue) continue to embed the conviction in us that our age is a lost one, mired in a corruption of the spirit from which we seem unable to escape.

LOTR: The Return Of The King has been recently and (I believe) importantly criticized by some as a return to a kind of retro-medievalism. With its easy designations of heroes and villains, light and dark, and a clear hierarchy of status not seen since the Indian caste system, it simultaneously provides audiences a much craved for moral clarity and, ironically, a kind of nostalgia for times and places that never really existed in the first place. The nostalgia may be, most importantly, for our collective childhood, particularly in the way the film lauds the innocence of the hobbits
-- elevating the meek to the status of the heroic. In a way the film is an exploration of Christian values, even while it totally reinvents its own refreshing celebration of humility.

LOTR: The Return Of The King is finally the story of Sam Gamgee, who is really the everyman of the film. It is the story of Sam's unconditional love that reaffirms our common humanity and yet, unfortunately, turns us away from the moral exploration that is necessary for enlightenment. For Sam is a good guy, and unambiguously so, and it is this that reveals both his strengths and his weaknesses. The strength is that he can save the hero, the weakness is that his moral clarity and judging of Smeagol as "evil" ultimately limits him to the world of the Shire. It is not insignificant that it is Frodo, not Sam, that journeys to the "other world" at the end of the film. Sam has not yet struggled with his own Smeagol, his dark other. Thus while he can save our hero Frodo, he can never really be him.

-- Diana Takata

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Copyright Web del Sol, 2004

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