A small film was released late last year: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – you may not have heard of it. It’s basically about a group of short, angry men trying to get their money back from a bully. They get help from an even shorter man, and old man, and Orlando Bloom.
OK, maybe that’s not the best synopsis ever, but I’m going to assume you know the film that I’m talking about.
I attended a midnight screening of Desolation (one of the 9 that were available in my hometown!) and enjoyed it – far more than the first Hobbit film. It had a more coherent and singular style, plus a lot more story development.
Instead of putting up a review, I want to take a look at one of the major themes in the film. Just like LOTR, the book which this film is based on was written by JRR Tolkien, a devoted Catholic. Understandably then, the Desolation film has a lot of deep and religious themes – but are these dealt with appropriately?
And by the way: SPOILERS!
The most blatant theme in Desolation is that of light vs dark. And when I say ‘blatant’, I mean that the only thing missing was Bilbo shouting “Light vs Dark!”
By my count there were four separate times when a character said something like “Come out of the shadows”, “Come into the light”, or “Hiding in the shadows”; Tauriel (the new elven character) gave a speech about the beauty of light; and Gandalf has an angelic battle between white light and black, inky shadows.
Light and dark are well-known, almost stereotypical images used to show good and evil. In Scripture, light is used to show the action or presence of God, while darkness is chaos, death, and the domain of the evil one. The same is done in Tolkien’s stories. According to the history of Middle-earth, the Valar (good angels) who dwell in the world created two ‘trees of light’ which captured the light of the sun, moon and stars. An evil angel then destroyed these trees, and this destruction became the basis of the war which eventually led to the events in LOTR.
But the issue here in Desolation is that this film isn’t being made by religious people. They understand ‘light vs dark’ purely as a theme, a way to let people know who’s good and who’s bad, when it should be a symbol pointing to a greater reality and truth.
This can be seen clearly in the battle that Gandalf has with the Necromancer, which is built up as a deeply religious battle between good and evil. Just before the battle, Azog declares “We are legion!” – a line pulled from the mouth of a demon in Mark 5:9. So, it’s demons vs the priest. Watching the film for the first time, I was absolutely stoked at this line: I was convinced that we were about to see Gandalf do some good ol’ fashioned exorcism, or demon-slaying, or something equally epic. Instead, what do we get? Gandalf – the priest – fleeing. OK, I thought to myself, that’s alright. No priest is perfect. I waited in hopeful expectation as Gandalf leapt “out of the frying pan into the fire” (that’s a quote from The Hobbit book, by the way) and confronted the Necromancer. The Necromancer – shock horror – turns out to be none other than Sauron, that evil-eyed baddie from LOTR!
It gets to a point where it seems like Gandalf is about to lose… he looks tired… I’m certain that grace is about to burst in and save the day, maybe giving him a chance to escape… Instead, Gandalf loses. The priest, the Christ-figure, is defeated and captured by a demon, by the demon! Sure, maybe they’re going for a ‘Jesus-on-the-cross-but-resurrection-is-coming’ theme – I don’t think so, though. In the next film, Gandalf will probably escape. But after fleeing from a demon, losing a battle to another demon, and having his white light destroyed by darkness, the power of the symbol that Gandalf is seems… sullied. The darkness put out the light.
I can only hope that this theme is redeemed in the final film.
I See Fire is probably one of the biggest movie-songs ever. Ed Sheeran not only sings it, but he wrote and co-produced it as well. Interestingly, it has some strong religious tones in it. Here are a few lines:
Keep careful watch of my brothers souls […]
Keep watching over Durins sons […]
Calling out father, oh, stand by and we will watch the flames burn […]
If the dark returns then my brothers will die […]
Obviously these lyrics could be interpreted in many ways, and are undoubtedly sourced strongly from the history of Middle Earth and the old Nordic-style ballads that Tolkien draws from. But both of those influences are deliberate on the part of Tolkien, who wrote LOTR and much of the Middle Earth realm as intentionally Catholic.
Something I love in this song is the constant acknowledgment of mortality, and alongside this a realisation that we can’t overcome the evil on our own. There’s a call for some unknown person (*cough* God *cough*) to ‘watch over my brothers souls’.
I See Fire is a song that refuses to ignore the reality of death and judgment. We, as Christians, need to do the same. It’s very easy to become so focused on the pleasures, possessions and preoccupations of this world, that we forget it will all come to an end. Memento Mori – Remember That You Will Die.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal,but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
– Matt 6:19-21
I think someone needs to preach that Scripture to the Dwarves…
God bless you all,