Tolkien depicts the life and inspirations of the fantasy author with beautiful cinematography and a mix of emotions that leaves you wanting to go on adventures of your own.
“It’s a story about journeys. And the journeys we take to prove ourselves.”
Tolkien, directed by Dome Karukoski is the biographical movie depicting the early life and inspirations of legendary fantasy author and linguist J.R.R Tolkien. The trailers promised love and loss, fantasy mixed in with the real world. And boy did the film deliver on all of its promises.
Having been a large fan of Tolkien’s works since early teenage years, and interested in the history of the First World War, I was super excited for the movie’s release this year. And I was even more excited when I was able to attend the fan showing of the film on April 29th 2019 – a full week before the movie was officially released in the UK (and 2 weeks before the US!) I found myself clung to every reaction of humour, joy and love, or despair and sorrow. Each comes across beautifully on the screen and I found myself making connections to the novels in my head: a name of a solider Tolkien knew is mentioned roughly two thirds of the war through the tale, but when it’s spoken aloud you think back to a certain brave Hobbit companion and you can’t think of anything else that would fit better.
Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins cement the relationship between john and Edith as something as mystical and pure and his later works; when trials and tribulations force them to have a temporary parting, and he must choose between her and a degree at Oxford University, you feel the agony just as harsh as they.
One thing that struck me most about the film is its use of music; there is very little music during the scenes and the story is told primarily with diegetic sound. It pulls you into what Tolkien went through, and when the music is introduced it’s used effectively at points that makes it more impactful: first kisses, reunions, inspiration and ideas. For Tolkien, a man who’s fictional universe was brought to life by the music of the Valar, it’s something that has a greater worth beyond the confines of the film.
From the waves at the coast right before Tolkien is shipped out to the Western Front, to rustling leaves on tree branches, the film’s narrative is grounded in reality in a way that almost brings out a sense of wonder. Just like the way in which we were introduced to the Shire with glamour and a wistful nature, the trees in Sarehole, Oxford and beyond are something that take your breath away. The site is now a visitor’s attraction that can still be visited. When considering Tolkien as a person, it makes perfect sense. The man loved trees, and I mean that. His writings are complete evidence of that! Treebeard, anyone? And the theme of nature is something that comes through highly within the novels too – remember the final chapters of Return of the King? It’s perhaps inspired by industrial Birmingham, with its smokey skies and much darker colour pallet bringing the unease onto the audience.
The cinematography and special effects make the narrative toe this line between the real world and the world of fiction perfectly. In a split second, a shadow on the wall resembles something like a dragon’s head, Dwarven runes litter the walls of his Oxford University halls, and within a flash of smoke in No Man’s Land becomes something…. mythical. The framing of that particular piece, as John Ronald fights against his own Trench Fever to try and reach TCBS member Geoffrey Smith, as he stands before the growing figure of what appears to be the Dark Lord Melkor (Sauron’s boss from The Silmarillion), is one that took my breath away. It was almost as if the one shot put the author into the very shoes of the legends he’d grown to love, and the legends he would soon grow to write.
But there is something poetic about this movie closing on the word “Hobbit” as its last spoken line. It brings us full circle in our experience of the Middle-Earth, with the credits themselves taking the form of scenes from The Hobbit as is being displayed by the lantern in the movie’s opening, including the Riddles in the Dark with Gollum and arriving at the Lonely Mountain. The tale brings about Beren, Aragorn, Frodo, and their quests to prove themselves. Each stems from Tolkien’s own adventure, even if it’s not the path he would have chosen for himself sometimes.
Tolkien, directed by Dome Karukoski, is distributed in the UK by 20th Century Fox, certificate 12A.