Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Few Thoughts on The Battle of the Five Armies

Farewell, Master Burglar. Go back to your books, your fireplace. Plant your trees, watch them grow. If more of us valued home above gold, it would be a merrier world. -Thorin Oakenshield to Bilbo

The long awaited final chapter of the Hobbit trilogy has been released and many have already offered their own reviews and opinions about The Battle of the Five Armies. From what I have read, most are critical especially among purist who are familiar with the primary source. Regarding the many criticisms hurled at director Peter Jackson and the movie, I find myself somewhat sympathetic - but only somewhat. Yet of the six Middle-Earth movies produced thus far, the only movie that made me reflect on its overarching theme, The Battle of the Five Armies warrants it.

The premise of the story is simple. Once word spreads that the hording dragon is slain, what will happen to vast amount of gold he protected? The dwarves are the first to take possession of the dragon's grand wealth. For two films, the audience has been waiting the moment when Thorin would take back his people's land. At the beginning of the film, their quest has come to end while the consequence of their quest play out.

Simply put. This movie is about the evil of greed. Thorin finally takes possession of his homeland only to be consumed by its vast wealth. When given the opportunity to avoid war with the people of Laketown and the Elves, Thorin chooses war - he chooses his own wealth. All he had to do was turn over what would amount to less than a decimal of the wealth he now controlled. Thorin's greed blinded him from the unlikelihood of victory. He commanded an "army" of less than ten and he was up against thousands of well-trained elves and well-motivated men. There simply was no way he could win.

But Thorin was not the only one blinded by greed. All five armies want both the land, the fortress, and the gold. Every race of people is represented here: dwarves, men, elves, orcs, wizards, etc. Only Gandalf the Grey and Bilbo Baggins seem unaffected by the wealth, though Bilbo is seen taking back his own "fair share."

It is striking how Thorin in this movie echoes some of the same lines of Smaug in The Desolation of Smaug illustrating how the dragon is, at heart, a metaphor for the heart of man (or, in this case, dwarves, elves, and orcs). In this sense, The Battle of the Five Armies is the only film of the two trilogies to be shaped by a moral dilemma. Thorin was portrayed as a dwarf much like his grandfather who once ruled under the mountain except without the lust of greed. That is proven false in this third film. The same blood that ran through Thorin is the same greedy blood that ran through his corrupted grandfather.

From a Christian perspective, what lacks in this story is real redemption. Certainly Thorin comes to his senses in what was a rather strange scene where he imagines drowning in liquid gold. It is at this point the reader should look to J. R. R. Tolkien's friend and colleague, C. S. Lewis for hope. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace Clarence Scrubb (and he almost deserved the name!) allows his own greed to get the best of him and, as a result, he is turned into a dragon. Though Eustace tries to redeem himself from his dragon scales, he is ultimately unsuccessful. That is where Aslan comes in. Aslan, the untamed Lion and Christ-like figure, "undragons" Eustace.

The hope for Eustace, Thorin, and all the rest is not found inside for we are all greedy dragons. Redemption must be alien - it must be external. We need to place our fate and heart into the hands of One guitless of such lust. Christians claim that such a person actually exists. He is no wizard, but a Messiah: Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

This is ultimately what I liked about this film. It is about more than just war, battles, blood, action, and victory. Its an expose on the human heart. All of us risk war everyday simply because our heart blinds us. Our only hope, then, is a Redeemer who, like Aslan, can remove the heart of stone and give us a new birth.

For more:
"The Fellowship of the Ring" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Two Towers" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Return of the King" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
Longing for Eden: Tolkien's Insight into the Longing of Every Human Soul
An Encouraging Thought: Gandalf on Providence
How to Read J. R. R. Tolkien
Clash of the Gods: Tolkien's Monsters Documentary
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Dramatized Audio
"Beyond The Movie": A National Geographic Documentary on the Lord of the Rings
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