Monday, 27 May 2013

Scene Analysis: The Return of the King - The Final Scene.

One of the most common debates concerning The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is whether Peter Jackson ended it well. Many have said that the trilogy should have ended with Aragorn's coronation at Minas Tirith, others say it should have ended when Frodo left for The Grey Havens, and some say that it should have ended even earlier with the destruction of the Ring and the collapse of Mordor. It is a difficult question, firstly because you can never please everyone, and secondly, Jackson had the difficult task throughout the books of deciding what was cinematic and what wasn't. What works in books doesn't always translate well on film, and Jackson made a lot of changes in the story to increase the cinematic effect of the films - which I believe is completely justified because any changes made never altered or ruined the overall theme of Tolkien's work.

However, when it comes to how to end this enormous and epic trilogy, do you need a big climactic finale to give it that ultimate punch? Or do you try and stay as true to the book as possible and go for a more emotional ending that causes the film to run a little longer and therefore annoy some of the audience. I finally read JRR Tolkien's books this year and have seen that Jackson cut a lot of the ending out already, e.g. The Scouring of the Shire. I understand his choice for this, the film would have been too long and it wasn't quite essential for the films themselves. In the book it works because when they defeat 'Sharky' Saruman and rebuild the Shire they plant mellyrn trees that Galadriel gifted them from Lothlorien... basically a lot of events that happened earlier in the books are tied up at the end. If they weren't included in the film to start with then there's nothing to really tie-up at the end.

Since the films release over a decade ago I was unsure of whether The Return of the King had dragged on a little too long and whether Jackson had perhaps indulged himself. But after finally reading Tolkien's trilogy and watching the films for the, I don't know, 50th (?) time, I believe that it ended perfectly with Sam returning to his new family and finally moving on. I will be discussing the ending and dissecting it's shots, dialogue, and themes to justify my opinion. You will find the clips for the two scenes that I will be analysing to the side here and later in the blogpost. Clip 1 is The Grey Havens Scene and Clip 2 is The End scene; any times I mention will be from these clips.

Let's start with the scene at The Grey Havens. In the films we have just seen Frodo finishing his book whilst he tells us that he can't live in the Shire anymore, his quest as the Ringbearer has made it impossible for him to continue life in his home at Bag End,
'How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on... when in your heart you begin to understand... there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend... some hurts that go too deep... that have taken hold.'
Here he is referring to the wound he received from the Witch-King at Weathertop wound which still causes him physical pain but also the memories and trauma of his journey to Mordor and his burden of the Ring are what gives him the greatest pain, they are what goes too deep. His wounds are both physical and psychological. He is traumatised for life. When you've endured what Frodo did, how on earth could you return to your old life and carry on as normal? The memories would never go away, and if they did for a fleeting moment, the pain from an old wound would be there instead. It irks back to what Galadriel says in  The Two Towers (film), 'The quest will claim his life.' And it has. Frodo may have survived but as far as his life in the Shire is concerned, he's lost it. He cannot go back, there is no place for him there anymore. And he has to leave with the Elves, Gandalf, and Bilbo for him to have any chance of peace and tranquility - for any chance to move on from the trauma he experienced.

So, we are at the beautiful harbour of The Grey Havens. True to form, Jackson creates an almost heavenly appearance. The sky and the buildings glow with the golden sunlight that is streaming across the harbour, whilst the waters glitter with a golden sparkle. It is such a serene atmosphere in comparison to what we have seen in the film so far with the battlefields and Mordor, even compared to the Shire this place and the sea it paths out to look like paradise. The perfect final resting place for the Elves and for Frodo. 

I have noticed that many complain about the length and number of hugs we see in the first three minutes of this scene, but come on. These four hobbits have been friends since they were children and now they have been on an experience together that was so horrific that it's created an unbreakable bond between them. Even when Merry and Pippin had the chance of returning to the Shire and hope that everything would blow over without their help, they continued to fight for their friends, Frodo & Sam. In the film, Sam is turned away by Frodo but even though he has to climb up all the stairs of Cirith Ungol again, he does it because he knows that Frodo has been tricked and is in very great danger. Now, Merry, Pippin, and Sam find out that the friend they were all trying to help and save is leaving, and they will never see him again. 

As Gandalf says farewell to the hobbits, each one is crying except for Frodo because of course he
knows that he is going away with Gandalf, however he also doesn't cry when he himself is saying goodbye to his friends. They are all in tears; Sam is devastated, but Frodo doesn't cry. When Gandalf says 'It is time Frodo' they all look towards him puzzled. Frodo is mainly looking at Sam, because he knows that Sam is the one who will take this the hardest. Frodo was his responsibility on the quest, and now he is leaving. But Frodo tells him honestly, that although they saved the Shire, it wasn't saved for him. And that alone tells Sam that it has nothing to do with the friendship or that maybe Sam didn't look after Frodo enough on the journey, but that in order to destroy the Ring Frodo had to pay the ultimate sacrifice. He could have either lost his life physically or spiritually. Either way he cannot go back to his old life like they can.

There are no tears from Frodo here, even after he hugs all of them. Could this be because the Ring has taken so much from him that he can no longer cry? Are his emotions spent? Or is there just an acceptance - much like his acceptance of the quest when Gandalf sent him to Bree, and like when he took it upon himself at Rivendell and Amon Hen to do what had to be done. Again here there is an acceptance that that's how things are. 

At 2:30mins in the clip, Frodo turns away from Merry and Pippin to have one final goodbye with Sam. This one last, final, big hug, some have said is over the top but these are best friends. They've been together every day for years, encountered the most horrific dangers, near death experiences... they've been the best of friends imaginable. Sam kept Frodo going, Sam saved Frodo's life on a number of occasions. But there is nothing more that Sam can do for Frodo. The look on Frodo's face is one of inexpressible gratitude, love, and care for his unshakeable friend, Sam. Before it was Sam holding Frodo on the slopes of Mount Doom and hiding from Nazgul on The Dead Marshes. But now it is Frodo holding Sam. It's a beautiful moment and truly touching; Elijah Wood really was remarkable in this scene. He doesn't say a lot but he doesn't need to say anything, it's all said in his face. There is a sort of lost soul behind his eyes... the damage caused from being a Ringbearer. 

Finally Frodo kisses Sam on the forehead; in today's modern world we've kind of lost the recognition of a kiss. It's more associated with lovers or being a romantic/sexual thing. But a kiss years ago was a major sign of love and affection in a non-romantic way too. This is a parting kiss to a best friend which symbolises love, care, and a wish for them to live a happy life.

As Frodo walks away from the other hobbits he has an almost blank look in his eyes. Gandalf who has shown his affection for Frodo since the beginning of the story, holds out his hand to the brave, selfless hobbit, who has been lost for so long, and who still looks a little lost. But when Frodo boards the ship and takes one final look back at his friends, he gives them a smile - full of innocence, happiness, and calm - a genuine Frodo smile which we haven't seen since the first scenes in The Fellowship of the Ring. He is happy now. He is about to find peace and go somewhere where he can move on from the traumas of his past. The other hobbits know this, and they manage to smile back at their friend, through the tears, because they are happy for him. The ship sails into a bright and glorious glow of light, and makes us feel a serenity and calm which we know is where Frodo will be going to spend the last of his days. It's a beautiful scene and essential to help us understand the cost the Ring was to Frodo and the sacrifice he has made. 

Does the film end there? No it doesn't. And many have complained that it should have. I recall hearing a few huffs and puffs in the cinema that there was more to come. It only lasts 1:34mins and again, I believe that is essential to finish the film and the trilogy properly.

Clip 2 (above): Sam returns home after saying goodbye to his Frodo. It is very quiet in the Shire; the grass is green, smoke is piping out of chimneys, birds are tweeting, and there is a wonderful silence and contentment of life oozing from the screen, He is greeted by his daughter first, then by his wife Rosie carrying their baby. She kisses her husband. Sam looks up, surrounded by his family, and says,
'Well, I'm back.'
This is a direct quote from the book. Although Sam got married and had children, he couldn't really move on from the past without Frodo being gone either. With Frodo there he still felt responsible for him and still wanted to help him because he could see that his friend was still in pain and living with the trauma. But now Frodo has left and found peace elsewhere, and Sam can finally move on with his new family. He laughs with his daughter and they all make their way into their hobbit home.

As Sam closes the door behind his family, the camera zooms in on the door; the round door with a golden door-knob in the centre. Whether you've read the books or not, the hobbit door is a symbol of the Shire and of hobbits in general. It is so distinct in it's shape and a symbol of wholesomeness, the home, peace outside the wild world of kings, battles, and rings. The track played over this is 'Elanor' in tribute to Sam's daughter Elanor, who was named after the sun-star flower that can only be found in Lothlorien. The track uses the same instruments and a similar structure to the hobbit theme of 'Concerning Hobbits.' So the music creates the feeling of hobbits, as they were, unharmed, but also a new generation and a new life of hobbits because it is a rendition or an extension of the original theme.

So, why does Jackson end the film this way? Although it may not seem cinematic in terms of explosions and victorious battles or special effects, it is cinematic in it's emotions. We see Sam finally moving on with a new life and we finish on a shot of the hobbit door.

What did Frodo and his friends set out to do? Not to save the world or the people of Middle-Earth as such. But the Shire. Whenever Frodo stumbled and fell and could no longer go on, Sam would remind him of the Shire and that would perk Frodo up. That's what they wanted to save because the Shire was untouched by the dangers and greed of the world of men. So much so that Sam and Frodo shouldn't have been anywhere near Mordor, 'By rights we shouldn't even be here.' The Shire is so unconnected and uncorrupted by the outside world that hobbits are more resilient to the power of the Ring than men are. The Ring and Sauron had never intended for it to end up in the hands of hobbits, nor did they perhaps even know what hobbits were.

For me that is why Jackson ended it with that scene in the Shire. He kept the original words of the book to show the emotional step Sam was now able to take. He shows that new life is now able to go on because the Ring was destroyed. Additionally, everything pure and good which is embodied in the Shire has been saved. Therefore a shot of the door, that unique and memorable shape, is used. Because the family home/new life has been saved but also the beautiful Shire. I think also that the closing of a door is a nice way to close the trilogy - all is finished. This story has come to it's end.

I find the ending really emotional and know that many agree. It encapsulates the emotions and themes of friendship, family, and all of those universal themes/truths that Tolkien spoke so truly. I think Jackson did a brilliant job there and I truly believe that it couldn't have ended better. An epic story needs a proper ending, not something slap dash which leaves questions unanswered and other endings untold. Well done Peter Jackson and your team - you did better than any of us could.

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