Friday, March 11, 2016

The Lord of the Rings Film Performance Review Series: Galadriel

Ha HA! You thought I forgot about the LOTR film series, didn’t you? DIDN’T YOU?!?!

Well, you were right – I completely forgot about it for months. But now it’s back, and now it’s back-er than ever. Or something. Let’s get to it…

Galadriel: Cate Blanchett could have been born for this role. She’s a perfect fit, from her regal bearing right down to her voice which is “deeper than a woman’s wont.” Once again we see the immensely positive impact the right actor with the right training and experience can have on a role or even on an entire film. 

Like many of the screenplay’s secondary characters, Galadriel doesn’t get a ton of face-time. Therefore, the actor must use the moments available to them to convey the critical messages their role was included to convey. In Galadriel’s case, the primary message concerns the Ring and the terrible power it can wield in the hands of a mighty Bearer. So far, we have seen Bilbo’s struggle with his possession of the Ring, Frodo’s susceptibility to it when commanded by the Black Riders to wear it, and Gandalf’s abject fear when freely offered it. Each of these encounters with the Ring’s malevolent will has a different flavor, and each flavor gives us a deeper understanding of the Ring’s evil nature. It has, as Gandalf says in Chapter 2, “an unwholesome power” which can attack the mind and will of anyone aware of it, gnawing at their reason and exacerbating their sins in order to control them and bring about the will of the Ring’s master – going to any lengths to reunite the two separated energies.

Although it does not appear in the movie, Elrond (and Gandalf, for a second time) refuse to carry the Ring at the Council in Rivendell, saying, “I will fear to take the Ring to hide it. I will not take the Ring to wield it.” Returning to the film, we see Boromir begin to succumb to the Ring’s wiles on the slopes of Caradhras. Up until the Ring reaches Galadriel, however, we are left with mere hints as to what might happen were the Ring to have its way and end up in the hands of one of the Wise and Great. In the gardens of Lothlorien, however, the veil is more fully thrown back, as it were, and we get a somewhat clearer understanding of just why all of these powerful individuals are so afraid of the “trifle that Sauron fancies.” But before we dive into that pool, let us set the stage.

Peter Jackson creates a very unique environment for us in Lothlorien. For one thing, the audience is a bit fatigued at this stage of the film, having just escaped from Moria and having our hearts ripped out through our noses by the tear-jerking scenes depicting Gandalf’s sacrifice for the Quest. Suddenly, we find ourselves in this eerie forest, complete with mysterious lights, haunting music (Howard Shore’s use of tri-tonal intervals and tight harmonies is nothing short of genius here), and imposing Elven lords, ladies, and warlike marchwardens all work together to let us know we’re not in Kansas anymore. Jackson also takes a very interesting director’s liberty throughout the scenes leading up to Galadriel’s mirror: he plays much of the action in slow-motion. But not super-slow-motion – it is not slow enough to be comical or burdensome to the audience, but he slows the film down just enough to create a feeling in the viewers that something isn’t as it should be; there is something otherworldly about this place, and we’re not quite sure whether it means our heroes harm or not. Yes, these are Elves we’re visiting with, but we almost feel as if we’re being enchanted by them – as if we’re being led into a trap to be ambushed by unknown and unseen forces. If you deliberately watch the film while pretending you have no idea whether Galadriel is friend or foe, you’ll find Jackson is hinting the Elf queen might have a menacing power she is hiding from her guests. He does this on purpose to create doubt in the audience’s mind as to what will happen next.

When Frodo offers Galadriel the Ring, Blanchett’s finest acting moments of the film are revealed to us. First, she maintains her regal bearing and betrays her shock at Frodo’s offer with a mere parting of the lips. This moment is very brief, but Blanchett uses it masterfully to convey her character’s surprise. Next, a trembling hand reaches for the Ring. Then, Blanchett withdraws her hand and we see the great she-Elf with other vision. Matching Tolkien’s description of her, Jackson suddenly makes her positively radiate power using light and film techniques, turning her into the image of a “terrible and worshipful” goddess. Blanchett’s voice is altered as well and, through both musical themes and an extreme close-up of the Ring itself, Galadriel delivers one of Tolkien’s (many, many, many) superb lines, “All shall love me and despair!”

In this way, the audience sees that the Ring, even when given something so beautiful as the lovely Galadriel as its canvas, turns that beauty to sheer power and tyrannical domination. All of the hints and warnings we’ve received thus far from Gandalf and others become a very real and disquieting threat right before our eyes – and that before she so much as lays a finger on the golden thing.

The following moment is equally important: we see Blanchett’s face turn fearful as the vision passes and she shrinks back to her normal self. It is the only time we ever see Galadriel truly rattled – the horror Blanchett’s expression conveys as she realizes what she might become were she to embrace the power of the Ring is what allows her to “pass the test,” as she puts it. The deeper implications of this cannot be overstated: by refusing the Ring, Galadriel is refusing to use Sauron’s own power against him, which is the only way her people can hope to survive on this side of the Great Sea. Had she taken the Ring, she would have had the power to stop the Elves’ decline in Middle-earth. “But that is not how it would end, alas,” she rightly recognizes. Her decision condemns both her people and her beloved homeland “to forget and to be forgotten” under the constant thrumming of the centuries.

As I mentioned waaaaay back when analyzing the performance of Sir Ian Mckellen, the portrayal of non-human creatures in film is a tricky business for any actor, perhaps even more so when one is not given an excessive amount of time to explore the ins and outs of the species. In her role, Blanchett does a wonderful job in showing us how even a well-meaning person, when granted sufficient power, will inevitably become a tyrant and a monster, no matter how lovely they may appear or how well-meaning their original intentions. By accepting the Ring and setting herself in a position to challenge Sauron for control of the mortal lands, Galadriel would have been working directly at odds with the will of Eru, who had decreed that Men would rule the latter days of Arda. Even if she had succeeded in conquering the Dark Lord, she would have done little more than slow the inevitable march of time while surrendering her soul in the process. Blanchett’s fabulous Shakespearean acting lets us witness Galadriel making this horrible Sisyphean choice and, thankfully, reaching the right decision.

Master of Toons

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