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Archive for the ‘Lord of the Rings’ Category

enterbirdman-movie-review3mctFor parts 1 and 2, click here

This has never happened before…never once.  I sincerely thought my series on the movie “Birdman” needed a third post, but subsequent reflection and a rough draft have led me to question the necessity thereof.

But I am a firm believer in delivering on what one has promised, and so I will make a very, very brief observation.

The film ends with a hallucinatory sequence in which Riggan (Michael Keaton) encounters his alter ego, the “Birdman,” who convinces him of his almost god-like greatness; Riggan responds to this not by pursuing further superhero fame, but by going through with his Broadway play and blowing his own nose off to make it a success.

His willingness to do this to himself betrays a misguided instinct, but it suggests that he has the right idea of what makes for true greatness.

How do we become great?  By looking up.  If we look down, we are drawn to what is lower than ourselves (an interesting study of this is Gollum from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy; see The Fellowship of the Ring, chapter 2).  This is how we get sucked into superficial pursuits, including that of worldly greatness.  And if we look neither up nor down but merely at ourselves, we make ourselves static and fail to go anywhere.

But to look up, to strive for the service of something higher than ourselves — this is greatness.

Christ's Wounds“Caravaggio – The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” by Original uploader was Dante Alighieri at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Tm using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg#/media/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg

And to look toward the Highest is to begin to be a saint, one who (literally or figuratively) bleeds for the One Who bled for us.

See, I told you I’d be quick 🙂

Movie still obtained through a Google image search; image of Christ from Wikipedia

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Letters of TolkienA Jesuit priest with whom “Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien had been friends noted, in a letter to the latter, a certain resemblance between the Lady Galadriel and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Tolkien responded by calling the Virgin Mary — “Our Lady,” as he put it — the standard or source (I forget which) of all of his conceptions of beauty, “great and small.”

Our Lady of LoretoThis was in my mind during my recent discovery (mea culpa, mea maxima culpa) one of the Church’s most time-honored Marian litanies: The Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a.k.a. the Litany of Loreto, of which Tolkien was quite fond.  Here’s a snippet:

Virgin most prudent, (pray for us)
Virgin most venerable, (pray for us)
Virgin most renowned, (pray for us)
Virgin most powerful, (pray for us)
Virgin most merciful, (pray for us)
Virgin most faithful, (pray for us)
Mirror of justice, (pray for us)
Seat of wisdom, (pray for us)
Cause of our joy, (pray for us)
Spiritual vessel, (pray for us)
Vessel of honor, (pray for us)
Singular vessel of devotion, (pray for us)
Mystical rose,
pray for us (…)

– From “Our Catholic Prayers” (see link below)

Anyone interested in praying — or at least reading — the entire litany can find it here.

Book image from http://www.amazon.com; depiction of the Virgin Mary from Wikipedia

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Game_of_Thrones_title_card

I do find “Game of Thrones” enjoyable.  I find the characters, the world, and the story intriguing…if more than a little ambiguous.  Many people compare the show to “The Lord of the Rings,” some with attention to how its underlying worldview differs.  I want to take a look at that in this post.

The interesting thing about medieval fantasy is the time period that inspires the genre — and even more, the setting that inspires its settings: Northwestern Europe — especially Great Britain, which seems to be the prototypical setting.

England has a fascinating literary history.  The stories bound up with its ancestral traditions were, of course, passed on orally at first.  And when they began to be written down, they were given their Christian interpretations in translation.  Not only were the scribes immortalizing the great myths by committing them to the scrolls, they were drawing out what they perceived to be the “seeds of the Word” in these myths.

Tolkien_1916Now we turn to J.R.R. Tolkien, who was a scholar of Anglo-Saxon language and literature.  Between his love for the lore and history of his country, his interest in how language is shaped by and shapes people’s lives and cultures, his tragic experiences as a child and as a young man, and his discovery of hope and solace in the faith given to him by the priests who cared for him as an orphan, he came to find a unique way of presenting Christianity to the modern world…not in a preachy or didactic way, but as something that speaks to the deepest heart, deepest hurts, deepest hopes and desires of mankind.

Hence, we have Middle-Earth and “The Lord of the Rings.”

George_R._R._Martin_signingLet’s admit that Westeros, the setting of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” is a little bit different.  On the surface, it does strike one as a “re-paganization” of fantasy.  We find ourselves in a world of many gods; and whenever a “true God” is proposed, this is usually regarded with great suspicion.

But I almost wonder if it is more of a postmodern fantasy.  Not that it necessarily adheres to the tenets of postmodernism, but it gives us a world that is deeply unsure of itself and groping for answers, albeit within a setting that reflects the genre’s pre-Christian roots.

Okay.  All that said, I can delve more deeply into “Game of Thrones.”

robb_stark_02The more I watch the HBO series, the more convinced I am (though I have felt this way from the start) that “Game of Thrones” does not celebrate spectacles of violence, savage lust, scheming, or betrayal.  The show can be difficult to watch at times, because our characters are living in a world rife with the brutality of old Europe and in which loyalty is fragile, people seek their own ends above all else, nearly no one can be trusted (at least not for sure), and there are almost no friends.

The Starks maintain a code of honor and goodness, but their family would seem to be an island amidst a great flood of divided loyalties.  Our friends in Westeros live in a dark and hard world, and no goodhearted person could be unaffected by that.

But there are here and there what I would like to call “moments of light,” shining intermittently and fleetingly like sunlight through passing storm clouds….

Tyrion_Shae

…whether it is Tyrion Lannister’s growing love for the prostitute Shae…

Tywin-and-Arya…Tywin Lannister’s father-daughter-like bonding with Arya Stark…

Cersei…Queen Cersei’s tender love for her children and regret over the grief her son Joffrey is causing everyone…

Tyrion-Lannister…Tyrion’s almost-effort to comfort her (or the “moment they almost have”)…

Stannis Baratheon…or Stannis Baratheon’s regret over killing his younger brother, who had been his opponent in the war for the Iron Throne.

Overall, I would say this: Good fiction, at its best, shows how the goodness of the human spirit can triumph even in the face of great obstacles, while at the same time not glossing over the ambiguity in human nature.  If we’re going to compare Tolkien and Martin, it seems we could say that “The Lord of the Rings” is more concerned with the former, and “Game of Thrones” with the latter.

Where there is life, there is hope, and the good always has a way, at least, of peaking its head in.  And I think we see that in Westeros.  So while it may not exactly resemble Tolkien’s vision of the Light of Faith illuminating the myths of men, it does give us shafts of golden dawn light illuminating the dark forest.

Top three images from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search

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LOTR_Hobbits

Okay, okay…let’s start with a concession: This is a big time of year for the premiere of all kinds of movies.  But as a viewer, I have always felt it strangely appropriate that all three “Lord of the Rings” films came out at Christmastime.  And now the “Hobbit” films are coming out during the holiday season as well.  Somehow, it just feels right.

And maybe it’s providential…if for no other reason, because of the Hobbits.

TreebeardThere is an interesting scene in “The Two Towers,” the second book in Tolkien’s “Rings” trilogy, in which Hobbits Merry and Pippin tell Treebeard the story of their journey.  Here is Treebeard’s response:

There is something very big going on … By root and twig, but it is a strange business: up sprout a little folk that are not in the old lists (of creatures), and behold! the Nine forgotten Riders reappear to hunt them, and Gandalf takes them on a great journey, and Galadriel harbours them in Caras Galadon, and Orcs pursue them down all the leagues of Wilderland: indeed they seem to be caught up in a great storm. (‘The Two Towers,” Book III, Chapter 4 — bold mine)

I highlighted the bold section for a reason.  With “little people” appearing during the Third Age of Middle Earth, Tolkien’s Christianity seems to be peeping through the rafters.

NativityOne of the best commentaries on Christmas comes from C.S. Lewis, who said — I believe in “Mere Christianity” — that Christ’s coming into the world as an infant, born into poverty at that, was a deeply subversive act.  Coming to reclaim mankind and the world and to free them from the tyrannical power of the devil, he had to slip into enemy territory — behind enemy lines, as it were — unseen.

And, like the Hobbits, Christ was pursued by those seeking His death from the moment of His birth.  Those familiar with the New Testament will recall the slaughter of the innocents and the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt.

The Third Age of Middle Earth, unbeknownst to its inhabitants, would witness cataclysmic events that would decide the fate of the world.  Against the threat of Sauron, the Dark Lord, the might of Men and Elves would not avail.

Perceiving the oncoming storm, Gandalf the Wizard intuits that Middle Earth will need the help of a people with a whole new “skill set.”  Hence, he gets the Hobbits involved.

Still from The Hobbit: The Desolation of SmaugWhether it is Bilbo Baggins slipping into the dragon Smaug’s lair as a “burglar” or Frodo and Sam slipping into Mordor, the Hobbits are perfect “weapons” by virtue of their smallness and ability to creep into enemy territory unnoticed.  In this way, they are able to overthrow the usurpers that possess, or seek to possess, what is not theirs.

As we approach Christmas Day, let us celebrate Hobbits…and the birth of the Little King Who slips into the lair to defeat our Smaug.

Images of Treebeard and the Nativity from Wikipedia; others obtained through a Google image search

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DF-SC-84-11899Veterans Day is one of those rare holidays that pay homage to the lost virtue of heroism.

Along with our policemen, firefighters, and other public servants who put themselves in harm’s way for our freedom and safety, our men and women in uniform are a sign of contradiction.

Most of us prize subjective contentment as the summum bonum of life.  We pride ourselves on enjoyment and convenience.  So when people — flesh-and-blood human beings just like us — dedicate themselves to complete self-oblation, to the risk of life and limb for a cause higher than themselves…well, we cannot help but admire that, but at the same time it’s hard for us to understand.

Our veterans and those currently serving speak to us of mankind’s greatest potential glory.  For to give oneself away in the service of others and of a higher cause is part of the essence of sainthood, the call to which is universal.

Escriva_at_Mass_1971

Okay.  So we’re all called to sainthood.  But I want to reflect a little bit on those who are called to a higher degree of sanctity during this life — not for their own glory, but for the good of the multitudes.  The ones I speak of are veterans and warriors indeed, but of a different sort.

I am talking, of course, about the priesthood.  And to expand on my statement, I want to take a look at priestly spirituality as either directly portrayed or vaguely alluded to in three popular works of art:

1. The Lord of the Rings

Jrrt_lotr_cover_designThe priestly character of Aragorn as a ranger comes across a little more clearly in the books than in the movies.  Consider this quote from “The Fellowship of the Ring,” which Aragorn addresses to Boromir, a warrior of the more conventional sort:

If Gondor, Boromir, has been a stalwart tower, we have played another part.  Many evil things there are that your strong walls and bright swords do not stay.  You know little of the lands beyond your bounds.  Peace and freedom, do you say?  The North would have known them little but for us.  Fear would have destroyed them.  But when dark things come from the houseless hills, or creep from sunless woods, they fly from us.  What roads would any dare to tread, what safety would there be in quiet lands, or in the homes of simple men at night, if the Dúnedain were asleep, or were all gone into the grave?

And yet less thanks have we than you.  Travellers scowl at us, and countrymen give us scornful names. “Strider” I am to one fat man who lives within a day’s march of foes that would freeze his heart, or lay his little town in ruin, if he were not guarded ceaselessly.  Yet we would not have it otherwise.  If simple folk are free from care and fear, simple they will be, and we must be secret to keep them so.  That has been the task of my kindred, while the years have lengthened and the grass has grown. (pp. 278-279)*

Enough said, right?  I can’t help but think that J.R.R. Tolkien, a devout Catholic, had in mind the priests who raised him as an orphan, who absolved him of his sins, who gave him Our Lord in the Eucharist (Tolkien was a daily communicant), and who lived lives of chastity, prayer, discipline, and service so that Christ’s work may continue to be present in and nourish the world.

Anyway, I’ll be expanding on how this applies to the priesthood in my next two illustrations.

* Tolkien, J.R.R.  The Lord of the Rings: Part One — The Fellowship of the Ring.  New York: Ballantine Books, 1966

P.S. I am assuming this quotation falls under Fair Use laws, as my intention is to comment on it.  But if it in any ways violates copyright law, someone please let me know, and I will promptly either remove it or modify it so that it is shorter.

Images from Wikipedia

For part two, click here.

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I am hard at work on an article for the newspaper, so for tonight I’ll give you another video.

This one is from “Theater of the Word,” and it dramatizes an early debate between J.R.R. Tolkien (creator of Middle-Earth) and C.S. Lewis (creator of Narnia), back when Lewis was still an atheist.  I figured it would be apropos, given our recent reflections on fairy tales in contemporary culture.  Enjoy!

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We are now officially in the second week of the Lenten season (for a real short video presentation on Lent, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vm3JK7JYAKs&feature=player_embedded).

For those of you who observe Lent and for those of you who don’t, but would like to try and “get at” what we are observing during this season, here are some movies that you may want to check out between now and Easter Sunday.

The Way (2010)

Emilio Estevez’ remarkable mini-epic “The Way” follows the journey of California optometrist Tom Avery (Martin Sheen), whose son, Daniel (Estevez), died while walking the historic “Way of St. James” in the Pyrenees.  Not a particularly religious man, Avery nevertheless chooses to take the journey in his son’s place, carrying his ashes with him as he does so.

The film is a beautiful, emotional, and deeply personal exploration of a physical and spiritual journey that I think anyone can appreciate.

The Tree of Life (2011)

From the Big Bang to babies, from happiness to suffering, from family to faith, from sibling rivalry to death, Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” is without a doubt (in my humble opinion, anyway) the most moving film of the last half-decade.  The film communicates a sort of sacramental view of creation and human life.  Through a highly poetic visual and cinematic style, Malick suggests — through a world of the ordinary and everyday — a creation that is haunted by a mysterious and holy presence.

I have to say, there are few films that move me immediately to prayer, and this is one of them.  If you want a movie that stirs up the sense of being personally loved by a God who invites you to love Him, see “Tree of Life.”

The Mission (1986)

The_mission(Trailer unavailable)

Roland Joffé’s 1986 period piece “The Mission” is a great look at the work of Jesuit priests fighting for the rights of natives in 18th century South America.  Fr. Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) is an especially shining example of selfless Christian love and resistance to oppression through nonviolence.

Of Gods and Men (2010)

Based on the true story of Trappist monks facing death at the hands of militant rebels in 1990s Algeria, “Of Gods and Men” is a deep and profoundly affective story of fidelity, forgiveness, and sacrifice.

Jesus of Nazareth (1977)

Jesus_of_nazareth

(Trailer unavailable)

If you have some time on your hands, see if you can get a hold of Franco Zeffirelli’s epic miniseries “Jesus of Nazareth.”  Well-directed, well-written, and featuring very good performances, “Jesus of Nazareth” really accentuates the mercy of Jesus and His healing mission in the world.  I would especially recommend this film to people who struggle with scrupulosity and negative images of God.

The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Thepassionposterface-1-

(Trailer unavailable)

And of course, if you’re up to it, try to check out Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”  Yes, it’s visceral.  Yes, it can be very disturbing.  But for Christians, it is an excellent source of meditation on how much it cost God to redeem us “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8).

And last, but perhaps not least…

The Lord of the Rings (Trilogy)

Ringstrilogyposter

Yes, Peter Jackson’s unparalleled films based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy trilogy are wonderful Lenten fare.  Why?  Because they deal with such themes as self-sacrificing love, the value of suffering, and heroic virtue.  They can inspire people to change their lives, if they let them.

For those of you who are interested, here is a link to the first of two videos featuring Fr. Robert Barron’s commentary on “LOTR”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pio5pf-Eoi8.

There you have it.  Until next time, take care, and God bless.

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