Dec 27, 2013

The Hobbit: the desolation of humility?

A review by Fr Philip Kontos of the recently released movie, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, with special attention on one of the film’s characters and the amount of violence.

I'm conflicted. I liked the Hobbit movie, but have concerns over the Tauriel character. First off, I liked the character a lot and am glad she's there....But I feel guilty for liking her. I became an adult in the early 80's when the version of feminism I was taught (even bludgeoned with at times) was that the hero as efficient killer was just plain wrong and bad [and] the reason [why] our society is so awful...and a result of testosterone poisoning (yes, I was once told that the problem with men was that they were poisoned by testosterone). In the past decade or so there has been a proliferation of female characters who are as efficient as killers, if not even better killers, as the males are. We delight to see characters who can take on anything that moves (meaning usually male aggressors) and dispatch them with as much if not more lethality than anyone else. The problem is these are the same qualities that I was told were what was wrong with male heroes. In other words, we're saying that women have to be as brutal as men in order to be equal. It's funny that my misgivings about the Tauriel character would probably today be perceived as sexist (I've read a couple of places that to dislike the character is sexist), when in fact they arise from my lingering feminism of the 80's. There's a certain irony there.

Now, if I wanted to get to the old fashioned way of looking at the whole deal, I'd be worried about the level of violence and the grace with which it is presented. The scenes of killing are neat, tidy, beautifully choreographed and even funny. It's beautiful film making (and I laughed and cheered along with the movie), but thinking back to the books, if I recall, there wasn't usually that much detail in the fighting. LOTR was not an "action" book, really. Adventure, Epic, yes, but I don't remember detailed delight in all the killings that the movie goes in for. Of course that's part of the differences in the media and can't be helped in some ways, but I can't help but think that Tolkien might not have approved of these films. In some sense I think the characters all desired nothing more than to not have to fight, to live peacefully and get on with life....that fighting was a necessity that was thrust upon them. The poetry of the images makes that fighting beautiful rather than the ugly, deadly business that it really is.

Being a warrior can create extraordinary psychic scars. We've lost more veterans to suicide than to the actual bombs and bullets of combat. Police officers kill themselves at a rate double that of the civilian population. I think in some ways the books were about that heavy burden of war. I find that missing or at least thwarted by the prettiness of the Elven fighting (both Legolas and Tauriel make combat look's not)....or by the humour present in much of the Dwarvish combat (I'm thinking of the barrels...great scene, but bloodlessly don't see much blood, but there is a huge amount of violence covered by brilliant martial slapstick).

I think it's good for people to learn how to defend themselves (females and males)....learning a martial art is probably a good thing. Extolling, pardon my Saxon, the bad-assery of adventure characters (that's the term that keeps coming up in what I've read) or their brutal lethality (male or female), is problematic, I think. Maybe that's why I like Samwise Gamgee so much. He's not a warrior, he's not, nor would he ever be "bad-ass."

Fr Philip Kontos is an Orthodox priest from the St Peter Orthodox Mission, part of the Orthodox Church in America.


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