Monday, December 15, 2003

Some Further Thoughts on Faramir

So, I've been watching some of the Two Towers extras, and I find it very interesting to hear the writers' defense of the changes they made involving Faramir. They start off by defending the decision to move Frodo and Sam's encounter with Shelob to the third movie, on the grounds that if you have this big climactic event involving Sam and Frodo going on at exactly the same time as the big climactic stuff going on at Helm's deep, it's just going to be a bit too much, and the impact of both storylines is going to be diminished. (And, anyway, in terms of internal chronology, Shelob actually happens considerably after Helm's Deep.) OK, fair enough. Jackson and co. then go on to say that, that decision having been made, they were left with a bit of a problem, because pretty much nothing of any real dramatic significance was happening with the Sam & Frodo story. In order to keep some sort of dramatic tension, they say, there had to be some sort of obstacle on their journey. Faramir showing up and being all pleasant and helpful just doesn't cut it, so he had to be converted into an obstacle. Moreover, the reasoning goes, they'd been playing up the power of the Ring throughout the whole movie, the effect it has on people, the difficulty of resisting its lure... This is absolutely essential to Frodo's character arc, in fact. And having Faramir apparently being completely unaffected by it -- in the book, he says that he wouldn't pick it up if he found it lying by the side of the road -- really undermines that.

And you know what? All of that actually makes perfect sense to me. These guys do have a good sense of what makes for good storytelling, for what kind of pacing a movie needs, for how best to structure things to keep the drama and tension at exactly the right level. (Indeed, it seems to me that they understand it far better than the people who make the Harry Potter movies. I have serious problems with the pacing and structure of those, particularly the first one. It tries to stick too close to the book and ends up not working very well as a movie, in my opinon. But that's a rant for another time.) I think their decision is completely defensible in those terms. I can see why it would bother hardcore Tolkien purists as a matter of principle, but I'm not really a hardcore Tolkien purist. I've got nothing particularly invested in the book characterization of Faramir. Indeed, it's been so long since I read the trilogy that I don't even remember that much about the book characterization of Faramir. And, as Jackson himself points, out, they've made much bigger changes than that elsewhere.

However. Defensible as the decision may be in principle, I do think it falls down rather badly in the execution. Fidelity to the book entirely aside, I honestly don't think the movie's depiction of Faramir works all that well purely in internal story terms.

Part of my objection really only applies to the theatrical version, and is very much the fault of the edit which left the Faramir-Boromir-Denethor flashback scene on the cutting room floor. With that scene intact, one is moved with a certain sympathy and understanding for Faramir. He's a man motivated by duty and by a desire to win the respect of his father. Without it, there is no sense whatsoever that there's anything noble or sympathetic motivating him, and he comes across simply as a glory-hound and an asshole. This in sharp contrast to Boromir, who was entirely sympathetic despite his flaws. Indeed, what made Boromir's story so tragic is that the Ring was able to use his good qualities -- his nobility, his desire to protect his people -- as hooks to twist him towards its own ends. This is, in fact, exactly what makes the ring so horrifying and dangerous in the first place. But you don't get any sense of that with Faramir at all, unfortunately.

The other problem is that, as various writers and cast members and etc. say repeatedly on various extras, Faramir in the movie is supposed to have a character arc. He's supposed to start off as an opponent to the hobbits, have an emotional revelation, and change his mind. Which is all well and good, and may actually be more interesting characterization than what Tolkien does with him in the book. Unfortunately, they don't actually pull it off in any convincing manner. It's not remotely clear from the movie just at what point Faramir changes his mind, or why. The idea seems to have been that he finally realizes what the Ring did to Boromir, and recognizes that it cannot be used for good and must be destroyed. Which could have been very powerful, if we'd actually seen it happening. All we actually see, though, is Faramir being keen on taking the thing to Gondor one minute and content to let Sam and Frodo take off with it the next. Exactly what stimulus prompts this sudden change of heart is very, very unclear... And it really, really needs not to be to make both the scene and the character work, in my opinion.

Mind you, I still love the movie to pieces, otherwise...

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