One ring to rule them all?


Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair and Peter Jackson
Starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen and Viggo Mortensen.


The corporate media were quick to latch on to the good versus evil theme in The Two Towers, the second installment in director Peter Jackson's film adaptation of JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, as a profound metaphor for Washington's "war on terrorism". "As the world's only superpower, we're carrying the Ring on behalf of an entire planet", Time magazine ludicrously declared.

But The Two Towers delivers a very different message. The story, set in the imaginary medieval world of Middle Earth, follows Frodo Baggins and his companions on their quest to destroy a magical ring that gives absolute power. The ring's creator, Sauron, is preparing to launch a massive war to conquer all of Middle Earth, aided by a powerful army created by the wizard Saruman. The film's heroes are driven by the conviction that there should be no "One Ring to rule them all" — that no-one should have the power to dominate whole peoples.

As an artistic and technical achievement, this film is unparalleled. Although the special effects will make your jaw drop, it's the excellent acting and compelling plot that make this a great movie.

The dramatic centrepiece of the film is the battle of Helm's Deep, in which a few hundred poorly armed humans and elves defend themselves against tens of thousands of Saruman's soldiers. Saruman's troops, with their superior technology and endless resources, look more like the US military than the people who are fighting against them.

At least one cast member has spoken out about the film's real message. Viggo Mortensen, who plays the human warrior Aragorn, appeared on the US Public Broadcasting Service's Charlie Rose Show wearing a hand-made "No more blood for oil" T-shirt.

"If you're going to [make a comparison], then you should get it right", Mortensen told Rose. "The people who are terrified at Helm's Deep, who are outnumbered by this incredible violence and desire to control, to destroy — that's what we're doing in these countries. We've been doing this for a year in Afghanistan; we've been doing it for 11 years in Iraq", he said.

Tolkien would have rejected the idea that his story was pro-war propaganda. As a soldier in the British army during the First World War, Tolkien saw nearly all his friends killed. He was horrified by the enormous destructive power of modern technology and industry. But his profoundly pessimistic view of human nature led him to believe that the only refuge from the brutality of capitalism was a retreat to a pre-industrial feudal society.

The idealisation of a mythic feudal past, complete with kings and vassals, is one of the major weaknesses of the story. Sauron's empire is bad, but the everyday inequality of ruler and subject, master and servant, seems to be fine — even natural — in Tolkien's world.

The story also contains racist imagery, with people from the "South" and "East" identified with Sauron's forces. This is an unfortunate contradiction that undermines the story's message of interracial solidarity in common struggle.

Overall, however, The Two Towers is not only incredible filmmaking, but a great story that will inspire you to fight for what you believe in.

[From Socialist Worker, newspaper of the US International Socialist Organisation. Visit <>.]

From Green Left Weekly, January 29, 2003.

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