My favorite of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was The Two Towers. There, I said it. It may not be a popular opinion, but I wasn’t popular in high school and I’ve learned to dangle blithely and contentedly from my rung on the ladder. I think it really comes down to one thing: Gollum is and has been the most interesting fictional character to cross the big screen since, um, Ripley from Alien & Aliens (we’ll pretend that character never carried on beyond the second movie).

In the first film, Frodo stole the screen with both his naivety and general cuteness, but his character didn’t really stretch the model of reluctant hero to levels we’ve never seen before. In the second film, he was just plain useless and weak. The character of Aragorn, both in the first and third film was a real show stealer with his skills and martial prowess, but again, nothing unusual there. In fact, I think Jackson overstated the entire story of Aragorn’s rise to power, but that’s another subject.

No, it’s really Gollum who stretched the whole fabric of storytelling when it comes to literary figures and Hollywood films. He was a villain, but also an anti-hero, a monster, but also an underdog. It was impossible to watch his ragged ambulations and conflicted emotional contortions without feeling an overwhelming sense of both pity and loathing. No other character I’ve seen in a recent movie can evoke such fascination and even adoration. What is is about the bad-guy-who-wants-to-be-a-good-guy that makes people sit back, enjoy another beer, and rewind the parts that character was in (OK, maybe this is just me, but I’m hoping you see my point).

Tolkien knew the utility of the Gollum character. Don’t be deceived by The Hobbit, where he was almost reduced to a stereotype. Gollum represents the darkness we all have within ourselves. Not just reluctance to step up when called, not just weakness, not just fear–but real darkness. The ability to be overtaken by a need/greed/desire so monumental and consuming that even the moralistic and ethical laws ingrained within us from birth become nothing but scattered leaves in an October wind.

I think Tolkien’s greatest wish was to examine that subject, that darkness in humanity, and prove that there is some greater power beyond our own human strengths, that can rise above it and defeat it. I guess that’s an obvious statement, given how the series turns out, but using the juxtaposition of Frodo and Gollum to tell that tale is really one of the most brilliant triumphs in storytelling ever written.

So, anyway, I like the second movie the best because that’s where Gollum, and all that his puny little character stands for, gets to really shine. Just thought I’d share that.

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