12:15 A.M. Thoughts on Faramir: A Book and Movie Character Comparison
Early one morning, approximately 12:15, shortly after completing a viewing of The Two Towers, I realized I how much I loved Faramir, and how generally awesome and admirable he is. So dutifully, later that morning, I rose and wrote a blog post about him: a post that became this article.
There is a long-standing problem amongst LOTR fans concerning Tolkien’s version of Faramir and the vastly different representation of Faramir in The Two Towers and The Return of the King films. While the literary Faramir says he would not pick up the Ring if he found it on the side of the road, the film Faramir takes Frodo and Sam all the way to Osgiliath, intending to deliver Isildur’s Bane to the monstrous (yes! completely monstrous!) Denethor, determined to “show his quality” and win at last his cold father’s affection. And there is always debate concerning which version is better: the literary Faramir who never stoops to the Ring’s evil (the “saint” contrasting with the “repentant sinner” [Boromir] in Joseph Pearce’s dissection of the books in his lecture series “The Hidden Meaning of The Lord of the Rings“)–or the lonely and shunned son seeking both victory for Gondor and affection from his father, who for a time falls prey to the Ring’s seduction.
In the books, Faramir is, indeed, very much like a saint. A hero. He is strong and wise and wholly unaffected by the Ring’s lure–even when it is tantalizingly within his reach. And there is no trip to a besieged Osgiliath with the two hobbits, with him changing his mind only after Sam’s tirade and the Nazgul attack. (Also, I really do enjoy how the books delve much deeper into his quest to win the heart of Eowyn in the Houses of Healing, which the films could not plumb for reasons of time constraints. These scenes show a heart brave and pure and true that any girl would dream of.)
But the film alternative (I speak of the Extended Editions, as they offer several vital Faramir scenes left out of the original cuts) of Faramir is much more human–and, it must be acknowledged, more real. Even in the books, it is made quite plain that Denethor despises his second son and wished Faramir would have died in Boromir’s stead. This is made no different in the films. When, in a flashback sequence, Faramir offers to go to Rivendell in Boromir’s stead (Boromir being less than enthusiastic about the mission), Denethor brutally mocks his son by saying, “Oh, I see. A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality. This mission I trust only to your brother. The one who will not fail me.”
With this ghosting Faramir throughout The Two Towers film, how understandable is it that, now deprived of Boromir’s affectionate companionship, he is willing for a time to take the Ring to his father, in order to win his love? And how much more heroic does it make his conversion in The Two Towers’ resolution, where he agrees to sacrifice any love his father could give him, and make his own life forfeit, by releasing Frodo, Sam and Gollum to their errand of secrecy, “with the goodwill of all men”?
As much as I appreciate Tolkien’s saintly Faramir (and Joseph Pearce’s arguments for the allegory of it), it must be noted that no saint was immune to temptation–no saint (excepting, of course, Our Lady) went without falling. They were not perfect. Who is not familiar with the definition of sainthood as continually rising from falling, as opposed to never falling? In that perspective, the film-Faramir, to me, is an even truer picture of a saint–one who fell beneath temptation but then heroically rose from it and gave up everything he wanted for the sake of righteousness.
Philippa Boyens, one of the screenwriters for The Lord of the Rings, made a rather valid point in special-features commentaries. She acknowledged their version of Faramir was quite different from the books, but then went on to say that, in the film, if Faramir had indeed scorned the Ring from the onset, completely unaffected by it, his attitude would have “stripped the Ring of all its power.”
Consider the Ring’s pull on Boromir and a host of others in Middle-earth. Even Sam, for a moment, is rattled by it. And consider Frodo. The Ring is a constant torture to Frodo, acting as a vacuum to the hobbit’s strength, tempting him, weakening and shadowing his mind, demanding Frodo’s entire existence to be sacrificed on this journey to destroy the Ring and all evil with it. If Faramir had indeed remained aloof to that massive power and declared he would not pick up the Ring if it lay on the roadside–how would it all have reflected on Frodo’s suffering? Would it have belittled it?
I think there will always be disagreement between the consistently virtuous and the repentantly heroic Faramir bandcamps, but I also think there is ground for respect on both sides. It’s possible for book adherents to at least respect Jackson’s decision to illustrate a more human and relatable Faramir who, in the end, exhibits the same extraordinary nobility and heroism; it can be argued that this representation is equally inspiring as the book one. And, conversely, those who prefer Faramir’s fall-to-rise film version should take the time to re-read Tolkien’s original portrayal of Boromir’s brother and appreciate the saintliness of the man who declared he would not stoop for the Ring if he found it on the side of the road. Either way, in the end, all can agree that both representations attest to the fact that Faramir is and continues to be a compelling, inspiring, and invaluable member of the Tolkien canon.