Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tolkien Month Part 3: The Return of the King (2003)

     We may be in the middle of “Tolkien Month”, but today’s film is the conclusion to “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and it’s up there with “The Two Towers” as one of my favorites. It’s a well-earned conclusion to an amazing film saga, and in my opinion, it continues this idea of different characters becoming more like Christ in their own ways. Let’s take a look at “The Return of the King”.

    As Saruman has been defeated at the end of “The Two Towers”, Frodo, Sam, and Sméagol are closer on their journey to Mordor (although tensions are about to rise), and Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli finally come across Merry and Pippin in the safe keeping of Treebeard. Through a long series of events, the two groups work in their own ways to destroy the Ring of Power and defeat Sauron and his army of Orcs. But, as we saw in “The Two Towers”, Sméagol has once again been overtaken by Gollum, and he is about to lead Frodo and Sam to a place where they should not go.

     Meanwhile, Pippin sees in a vision that Sauron’s army is about to attack Minas Tirith, a city under the rule of Denethor (John Noble), father of Boromir and Faramir. Now that Boromir is dead, Denethor is too busy mourning to care about protecting the city—or Faramir’s service. But that doesn’t stop Gandalf and Pippin from lighting beacons from around the land, calling for aid from Rohan, which Théoden responds to. An attack is about to take place, and Frodo and Sam are still being led to Mordor.

     Or are they? Gollum takes them up an incredibly steep staircase apparently leading to Mordor (but in reality leading to the lair of Shelob, a huge spider… thing), and all this time has been leading Frodo to mistrust Sam, making him think that Sam wants the Ring of Power for himself. Because the burden of carrying the Ring is so heavy, Frodo cannot think straight, and he eventually trusts Gollum more than Sam. One night, when Gollum tricks Frodo into thinking that Sam ate the rest of their food, Frodo sends Sam back, and he continues on with Gollum while Sam weeps alone.

     Meanwhile, in battles against the Orcs, Faramir is wounded and believed to be dead, and Denethor, overcome by the loss of both his sons, decides to burn Faramir and himself alive. Pippin realizes that Faramir is regaining consciousness, and he brings Gandalf in to rescue Faramir before Denethor lights himself up. When he realizes what he is doing and that Faramir, having just been saved by Gandalf, is in fact alive, Denethor jumps off a cliff to his death into the battle below. Later, Eowyn (Miranda Otto), Théoden’s niece, and Merry hide amongst the men fighting, and Théoden is mortally wounded by a head Orc known as Gothmog the Witchking (Lawrence Makoare). Eowyn ends up defeating him (in a pretty awesome scene, if you ask me), but she is unable to save her uncle before he dies in her arms.

     Frodo, in Shelob’s lair, fights the spider off for a while and then finally is attacked by Gollum. Frodo throws Gollum off the side of the lair, and continues on his way until he is finally poisoned by Shelob. Sam, knowing that Gollum had lied to Frodo, goes to rescue Frodo but believes him to be dead. He hides as some Orcs come and get Frodo’s limp but still living body. Sam follows them and eventually rescues Frodo from their clutches, and the two continue on their way.

     They finally approach Mount Doom, and Frodo’s strength is starting to lessen and lessen. In a powerful scene, as Frodo, wide-eyed and hardly conscious, is burdened by the Ring, Sam asks him if he remembers the sights, smells, and memories of the Shire.

FRODO: No, Sam. I can't recall the taste of food, nor the sound of water, nor the touch of grass. I'm naked in the dark, with nothing, no veil between me... and the wheel of fire! I can see him... with my waking eyes!

SAM: Then let us be rid of it, once and for all! Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you! Come on!

     And as he indeed carries Frodo slowly up the mountain, the character of Samwise Gamgee is an excellent example in “The Return of the King” acting like Christ. Even though Sam cannot carry Frodo’s burden, he is committed enough to his friend and to the task at hand to physically carry him—which in a literal sense is powerful enough, but to think of Sam’s support through this entire journey is absolutely incredible. And just as Sam tries to make Frodo’s burden lighter, Jesus does the same for us: He tells us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

     Long story short, Gollum shows up again, fights Frodo above the fires of Mount Doom, bites off Frodo’s ring finger, and falls with the Ring into the fire, and Sam rescues Frodo from Mount Doom as it collapses and Sauron is destroyed. Gandalf sends eagles to rescue the two Hobbits, the Fellowship of the Ring sans Boromir is reunited, and Aragorn, heir of king Isildur (a detail which I probably should have mentioned at the beginning of this series), is crowned king.

This day does not belong to one man but to all. Let us together rebuild this world that we may share in the days of peace.

     He reunites with Arwen, who I guess becomes queen, and when Aragorn approaches Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, the four Hobbits bow to him. Aragorn responds humbly.

ARAGORN: My friends. You bow to no one.

     And he bows before them, as does the enormous crowd around them. Aragorn, heir of the king who originally defeated Sauron but was later overtaken by the Ring and was killed for it, is the second example in this film of a Christ-like figure. Aragorn is not only from a poorer family, but he is also Isildur’s heir, and he admits in “The Fellowship of the Ring” that he is scared of becoming king because Isildur’s blood runs through his veins.

     Jesus lived not only as fully God, but fully man. This is incomprehensible to me, but that’s how it is. And I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to live a sinless life, with all the temptations and fears that a man faces every day. I fall to those struggles all the time, but Jesus never did? It’s truly mind-blowing! And when Aragorn decides to continue on his path to help destroy Sauron and redeem Middle-Earth, he is taking on the same kind of task (in my opinion) that Jesus took on when he decided to go through with his sacrifice for our sins. And in the end, Aragorn was crowned king, and so is Jesus—as it is written, He is “the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 6:15b-16)

     Amen indeed. I pray that as we continue to be reminded of Christ’s example, that we would all discover what it means to forsake the desires of the flesh and follow the will of God.

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