I just finished my second viewing of Return of the King
, the third installment of the Lord of the Rings film adaptations. Although best viewed on a big screen (rather than my twelve-inch television), it took my breath away nonetheless, and reaffirmed its status of one of my favorite films of all time (and definitely the best of the trilogy).
Something else jumped out at me, though, this time around. My first reaction after seeing the film, when asked about it, was that this film is first and foremost about relationships. In this respect, it is faithful to the book. Though the war scenes are grand and sweeping, actual combat accounts for only a few fleeting scenes. The vast bulk of the screen time is given to providing insight into the personalities of the main characters, showing us how these personalities develop, and most of all, how they do so by relating to one another. Sam comes center stage here, as do Merry and Pippin (in this film alone, it seems), and Aragorn as well. Sadly, we get very little sustained insight into Gimli's or Legolas' characters or their relationships, since they serve mostly as stock or even stereotyped characters. Frodo, too, remains elusive, but occasionally he does open up to others, and to us.
Most of all, we see the relationship between Sam and Frodo develop, especially between their painful falling out over Gollum's trickery and their touching solidarity at the foot of Mount Doom. The moment where Sam actually picks up the collapsed Frodo and carries him up the mountain is etched in my memory as a dramatized reenactment of Simon of Cyrene's bearing of the cross at Golgotha. The relationship between the two, at times, becomes intimate on a very deep level, and at times reaches such an emotional peak that it made me shift in my seat with a bit of discomfort. We're not used to seeing men relate with such intimacy and raw sincerity. When we do, we generally suspect that they're, you know, up to something. But Frodo and Sam's relationship is built upon a personal history of self-sacrificing love for one another, the mark of true friendship, and it is this alone which sustains them on their long pilgrimage together through the valley of Mordor. A friendship built upon a foundation such as this, I suppose, is what can allow them to look lovingly into one another's eyes as the seconds tick by, in a way that would make the rest of us men shy away, embarrassed and humiliated. The reason, is, I think, not that we're more masculine, but that we're not masculine enough. We're uncomfortable with our own manliness. Or rather, we've become impotent at the skill of building true masculine friendships. Our estrangement from our own masculinity makes us, in general, more comfortable in the company of women than with men. Or, when we are with men, we tend to divert our attention as far away from them as possible, avoiding at all costs actually engaging them in sustained, intimate and open conversation. That's for girls.