Sunday, August 24, 2008


Digging the weekend-long screenings on network TV of Peter Jackson’s masterpiece Lord of the Rings. Tonight is my favorite, The Two Towers (also my favorite of the three books). Jackson et al actually manage to pull a coherent story out of Tolkien’s impossibly cumbersome construction, and to convey—although there was a little bit too much Wagnerian pseudo-Norse mumbo-jumbo in Tolkien’s transplantation of Viking culture from the fjords of Scandinavia to the plains of the American West—the comparative reality and exhausted-beyond-death description of what combat actually feels like, reaching back to his own experience on the Western Front.

And it has the magnificent, transcendent, archetypal poetry of the mythic bond between horses and riders (see, in the extra to DVD, the absolutely fearless Rebecca Howell begin to cry as she recounts Viggo Mortensen buying her the horse she had ridden, and fallen in love with, as Liv Tyler’s stand-in) and of the stunning, mind-altering beauty of the New Zealand locations. And the balls-to-the-wall, bruised-and-battered commitment of the actors (Mortensen, Bloom, and the superhuman Kiwi and Ozzie stunt-men) who lived Helm’s Deep for three months of frozen, rain-lashed night shoots.

And it has the magnificent, sweet ferocity, the full-bodied and holding-nothing-back portrayal by Mirando Otto of Eowyn, the alternative/almost love-interest of Mortensen’s Aragorn. Even in the book, Eowyn was six times the woman that the “elf-princess” Arwen was—and in the film, Liv Tyler simply cannot hold a candle to Otto’s intensity, physicality, and charisma. Partly it’s simply that Eowyn is a far-better-written character (in book and film), partly it’s the guts Otto showed in training for the character (fantastic sequence in the DVD extras of her training for the combat portrayed in Return of the King) but it’s also that Otto completely loses herself in the character. There’s no “oh yes, that’s Liv Tyler playing the elf-princess Arwen” in Otto’s portrayal—there’s only the intensity and heartbreak of Eowyn herself. It’s a remarkably unselfish and powerful characterization. So that when her uncle is released from a spell, he says to Eowyn “I know your face”—and says it again, in the foreshadowed next film, at the moment of his transcendence and death—and it’s the most powerful moment in the movie.

Real men—in fiction, in myth, and in reality—celebrate, and recognize, strong women.

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