I may be a little under the weather. You hate to admit such a thing in a pandemic, because not only is it panic-inducing for you and your loved ones, but it also comes with a certain amount of ostracizing. Rest assured, my children and I—who are very mildly ill (probably a cold)—have cancelled all our (already modest and socially-distanced) plans for the weekend and are getting better already. That said, I managed to get quite a bit of movie viewing and reading done, while I was not cleaning the house or submitting novels (too taxing!) and when I was not slumped up in a bed-blob watching Rachael Ray’s Week in a Day with glassy eyes.
One of the movies I watched was yet another movie about a writer, which means it gets its own blog entry here at The Starving Artist. Tolkien is a movie about—ta da!—J.R.R. Tolkien. I have to admit, I don’t know how it came across my radar because I hadn’t really heard much about it. And when I looked it up? Just articles about it costing twenty million and only raking in nine at the box office and another article about how the Tolkien Legacy Society (that’s not it’s real name, I can’t remember it) does not in any way endorse this movie. So, that’ll make you want to run right out and rent a movie…
But through my curiosity about writers and love of speculative fiction, The Lord of the Rings cycle, and all things British, I pushed the button anyways. (It was free with one of my subscriptions.) And I don’t know what all the fuss was about. It makes me sad that this movie didn’t at least make the twenty million. I mean, it’s not amazingly good, but it’s decent enough that all those crazy, comi-con people should have showed up in droves, no? I mean, I kinda think the investors were banking on all the many loyal fans of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit series to show up. Was it too much to ask then to have some interest in the artist behind the art? Apparently.
Or maybe they got the memo that this was a “based on a true story” account, one that didn’t involve anything but humans and the very real realm of WWI England. Or maybe it was released at the wrong time or during too stiff of a competition, maybe a blockbuster summer week. Whatever. I think the movie is pretty decent. My only complaint is that the on-screen chemistry between Tolkien and Edith isn’t what it could have been, though everyone seemed to be trying hard to make it work, to make it magical. Because of it, the comradery between Tolkien and his friends took front stage instead. That’s okay, since this movie isn’t really a romance at all, though it involves romance. It really is much more about friendship and support and loyalty, and Tolkien’s story is interesting enough to make a viewer want to later pick up a more sanctioned and accurate biography.
There was some beautiful cinematography, some good acting, and fine writing, knit neatly together. My favorite bits were where we could see the magic in the world that Tolkien was seeing in his head. (Magic realism seems to be a movie trend lately, especially in very small doses.) As a writer, I think this is a fair (and even fun) way to portray the writing process. We get ideas from the world around us, sometimes see a story in the mundane. And really, the movie makers were not saying Tolkien had visions, just suggesting that what happened to him would become the stories that we all love and are even instructed by (in the same way that the flash-forwards in Radioactive show us the repercussions of Marie Currie’s work). Not that Tolkien was a typical writer. And I mean that more than that he was to go on and write perhaps the most influential body of work in the speculative fiction genre, stories that would take on a life on their own and inspire lots of art, entertain lots of people, and make lots of money. I mean that he was not a typical writer in his path there and in his process. I already knew, before watching the movie, that Tolkien was more about world-building than in penning a novel. In the movie, it begins with language, which is possibly accurate, I don’t know, though I do know Tolkien was a big language guy. I actually have a writer friend who is like this: he is more intent on rabbiting away decades of files on people who don’t exist, places that don’t exist, a history that didn’t happen, languages, customs… world building for the sake of world building! It’s just a different motivation, a different passion, to that insistent drive to put words on a page until it makes a complete story and then do it again and again. This is what most writers experience. But not really Tolkien, I think. He felt an insistent drive, like my friend, to create a whole world.
I would recommend the movie if you have an interest in Tolkien, language, writing, or all things British. It’s a good shoulder-to-shoulder guys movie, but it is a bit tragic because it’s a war movie. I did want to see more of his later life, but that’s not the story being told here. It’s Tolkien coming of age, with some exaggeration and fantasy mixed in, a little chemistry missing, a lot of religion missing, and a splash of magic.