I was fortunate enough to catch a late night screening of Tolkien this past Thursday, technically a day earlier than its release. I’d not done much research on the film prior to entering the theater, aside from seeing the trailers. I wouldn’t call myself a Tolkien expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I am familiar with his backstory and the influence his life had upon his work, largely due to my Master’s degree program at Signum University.
All that being said, what I enjoyed the most about the Tolkien film, and what I truly believe to be the real heart of the story, is the way that it deals with the role of art in how we as humans process our emotions, our joy, our pain, our grief, our trauma.
I grew up as the lone nerd in a family of rednecks. I share few interests with anyone in my immediate family. On some level, that’s always made it difficult for me feel like I could talk openly and freely about the things I care about simply because my family doesn’t get it. And that’s fine. It doesn’t mean I love them any less. But still, it was a lonely way to feel growing up as a little nerd girl.
Because of my circumstances, fiction became my safe haven. I dove deep with my favorite books, thought much more extensively than anyone probably should over many half-hour animated television series, and processed my emotions through the lens of those characters. It was cathartic. It was freeing. It made me more emotionally intelligent.
The film’s editing highlighted these threads well, bouncing back and forth between Tolkien’s early life and his time in the trenches during World War I. Those shots from the trenches, while perhaps a bit heavy-handed, did a fantastic job of calling to mind scenes from Tolkien’s work and even had some visual cues from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films.
Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins offer wonderful performances. On some level, I feel like I’ve always viewed J. R. R. Tolkien as this literary grandfather figure. Someone to be revered and admired, someone warm and jovial, but perhaps not someone who you could get to know on a personal level. Hoult’s performance really brought Tolkien to life in that respect, showcasing the depths of his emotions. I loved it.
I think the best way to summarize this film is a quote from Tolkien and his childhood friends, The Tea Club and Barrovian Society (or the TCBS),
“We will change the world through the power of art.”
Overall, I would recommend Tolkien. The cast makes the film accessible to non-Tolkien buffs, and the Tolkien buffs will appreciate how the film highlights the importance of language and linguistics to his work. However, the theme of how we process our emotions, both positive and negative, is what differentiates this film from other biopics I’ve seen in recent memory. That is a theme that is resonant within our culture today, highlighting the importance of creating art that doesn’t just entertain, but also allows us to process, think, and move forward. I believe that to be the function of good art. Good art does not exist simply to be consumed. It is there to propel us forward to change the world from as it is, to as it should be. We will change the world through the power of art, indeed.
Tolkien is in theaters now.