Thursday, December 17, 2015

Kili and Tauriel in Retrospect

As we arrive at both the 1-year anniversary of The Battle of the Five Armies and the 1-month anniversary of its Extended Edition, I think enough time has passed that we can look back on the Peter Jackson Hobbit films with a more objective eye. Whether we love them or hate them, the films have always sparked controversy among Tolkien purists, and one of their most infamous controversies is the romantic subplot involving Kili the dwarf and Tauriel the elf.

It's easy to understand the backlash that this subplot has received from fans, seeing how I was among those who initially cringed at it. Not only was it never in the book, but it also featured a character who was never in the book and it took up a lot of screentime that could have been spent on elements that were from Tolkien's original tale. It's said that the studio pressured the filmmakers to shoehorn Tauriel and the love story into the movies, and although I still think that her romance with Kili is unnecessary, I have come to wonder if it's really as trite and implausible as I once found it.

First of all, I'm not against adding an original, major female character to The Hobbit. The book has pretty much no women in it, which would be conspicuous in a modern-day film, and since many characters from the book were totally re-envisioned in the movies anyway, creating a whole new character alongside them doesn't feel like that much of a crime. When you get down to it, the biggest difference between Tauriel and the film versions of the dwarves, Radagast, and Azog is that Tauriel was given her name by the screenwriters instead of by Tolkien. I never took issue with her, just with her and Kili's romance.

Looking back on that subplot now, I'm willing to consider that it's more complex than I first gave it credit for.

While their relationship is technically a romance, it's a romance that never really gets off the ground. The whole thing is just about Kili trying to convince Tauriel to give him a chance while she keeps trying to deny that she feels anything for him. It's largely one-sided, they don't exchange sappy love dialogue, and they don't even kiss until after it's too late for them to be together. I think the reason I cringed at their relationship the first time I saw The Desolation of Smaug was because I was so bugged at the film for including it at all that I blew it out of proportion.

Consider this: shortly after Desolation came out, I tried an experiment where I went through the Kili and Tauriel scenes over and over in my head but kept replacing Kili with other dwarves from the Company. The only changes I made to the scenes were some adjustments to the dialogue so it would better suit the replacement characters. Some of the other dwarves filled Kili's shoes better than others, but one that I actually found those scenes working really well with was Ori.

Now, that wasn't because Ori is an irresistible dreamboat full of charisma  which, let's face it, he's not. The reason those scenes worked so well with him was because he was so childlike that it made Tauriel's kind and protective behavior towards him come off as motherly instead of romantic. It made it seem like she befriended him in prison because she felt bad for him and then came to admire how innocent he was, not because she was attracted to him, and it made it seem like she followed him to Lake-town to help him because she wanted to preserve his innocence in the midst of all the evil that was growing in the world, not because she had fallen in love with him.

While I was recently thinking back on how much more interesting a relationship like that would have been, it occurred to me that maybe Tauriel's relationship with Kili in Desolation actually was supposed to be like that. She says that Kili's promise to return to his mother is "pure," and when she explains her decision to follow the Company and the orcs to Lake-town, she describes it more in terms of taking a stand against evil than in terms of saving one dwarf. Maybe she first takes a liking to Kili not because of who he is, but because of what he represents to her in the grand scheme of things.

It's probably not until Kili asks if Tauriel could have loved him that she starts to wonder the same thing. Since love is unheard of between elves and dwarves and she knows how irrational Kili can be, she tries to let him down easy. That rejection obviously hurts him, but being young and hopeful, he refuses to let go of the idea. I think the reason why Tauriel's so sad at the end of their goodbye scene in The Battle of the Five Armies is because she feels that Kili's only setting himself up for more heartache over her, and she doesn't want to be the thing that ruins his optimistic outlook on the world. I really don't interpret it as her being sad that she can't be with her romantic interest that she's known for one day.

Furthermore, I think that Thranduil's speech to her about how she doesn't really love Kili is supposed to be what makes her realize that she does, hence the reason why she's in such a state of shock after he says it. Not all love is romantic love; Tauriel's feelings for Kili could be anything that's strong enough to make her want to save him from Azog's ambush, and they could be anything that's strong enough to devastate her when she fails to save him. It's possible that kissing Kili after he dies is her way of admitting that her love for him could have become romantic somewhere down the line, if it wasn't already.

Bottom line, I think that Kili and Tauriel's subplot is mainly about, again, what they represent in the grand scheme of things. It's not about their relationship; it's about whether or not any relationship between any elf and dwarf is possible, and ending it with the realization that such a thing is possible is actually a halfway decent setup for Legolas and Gimli becoming friends in The Lord of the Rings. Kili and Tauriel's romance presents the idea without them getting much chance to act upon it, and then Legolas and Gimli's friendship takes that idea to the next level by having them maintain a bond after forming it. I think that Kili and Tauriel were meant to pave the way for Legolas and Gimli in the movies rather than steal their thunder.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this subplot, or maybe the screenwriters really were trying to make lemonade out of lemons with it and their efforts just took a year or two to stand out. In either case, it's nice that Kili and Tauriel's story is presented in a way that leaves it open to more than one interpretation.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Is Gollum a Villain?

In a slightly more topical blog entry, I want to give my opinion on a rather interesting news story that's currently making its way around the Internet.

Apparently, a doctor in Turkey is on trial for posting a meme online that compares photos of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to screencaps of Gollum from the movie The Two Towers. It's being seen as an attack on Erdogan's character since Gollum is not a very morally upstanding character, and the doctor who posted the meme could face prison time for it.

Since the judge who's overseeing the trial isn't familiar with the Lord of the Rings movies or the character, he actually assembled a team of experts in various fields who will determine if Gollum is really a villain, which will factor into whether or not the meme was meant to be offensive.

Here's a link to one article covering the story:

Naturally, this got me thinking as well about whether or not Gollum is a villain. It's a topic that Tolkien fans have been debating about for decades, with some people saying that he is a villain, others saying that he's simply a victim, and some even saying that he's the true hero of The Lord of the Rings. I'm no expert on any of this, but in regards to the meme that led to this trial, here's my two cents:

Sam said it best about Gollum - "He's a villain." He kills people, plots to kill people, lies and manipulates people, eats people, and delights in causing pain. However, Gollum is not the only entity living inside of the bald, skinny creature that we see onscreen. There's also Smeagol, the sympathetic and decidedly helpful person that the creature used to be before he found the One Ring.

Here's the meme from that news story:

An easy way to distinguish the character's two personalities is by looking at the pupils of his eyes, which are small when he's Gollum and large when he's Smeagol. Of the three pictures shown above, only the first one shows the villainous Gollum personality. The other two show the good Smeagol personality, and they're both from scenes where the audience is meant to sympathize with him.

The question then, I suppose, is whether or not Smeagol ever becomes a villain in the story. We see Gollum more or less sway him into helping to betray the hobbits, and he certainly has no qualms about getting revenge on Sam for being mean to him, but he remains conflicted about hurting Frodo pretty much up until the end.

I think that the last we ever see of Smeagol in the movies is in Shelob's lair when Frodo finally tells him that the hobbits plan to destroy the One Ring. This is the final straw that breaks Smeagol's spirit once and for all, and even then, he isn't the one who lashes out at Frodo for it. You clearly see his pupils constrict as the Gollum personality takes over right before he gets up and jumps on Frodo. I always interpreted that as the good Smeagol side fading away once and for all because he's lost the will to oppose the Gollum side anymore, not as Smeagol becoming a villain.

In short, I think that the doctor who posted that meme has 2:1 favorable odds.

It should also be noted that the doctor claims that he only posted that meme to be funny. I can believe that; it's no more offensive than the hundreds of other comparison pictures that you see every day on websites like Heck, tons of people have been compared to pictures of Gollum on that site.

I won't get into why the Turkish Gollum meme turned into a court case while none of these others did, but it doesn't seem like any harm was meant by any of them. My only hope is that at least one Tolkien fan ends up on that team of experts or on the witness stand.