Tolkien (2019)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on May 13, 2019 @ tonymacklin.net.

Movies about writers usually fail. They leave out an emphasis on creativity and credibility. And, it is ironic that language is negligible in films about writers. Screenplays - by mediocre scribblers - flounder.

Also, casting is often a problem - e.g., Gregory Peck in Beloved Infidel (1959). Gregory Peck? F. Scott Fitzgerald is not Atticus Finch. The fatuous Richard Beymer played Nick Adams, the young Hemingway autobiographical character in Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man (1962). Hemingway's name is in the movie's title, so that we know. Otherwise we wouldn't have guessed.

All of this comes into play in Tolkien, the film about J.R.R. Tolkien as a boy (Harry Gilby) and a young man (Nicholas Hoult).

Hoult has become the go-to actor to portray important writers. He was J.D. Salinger in Rebel in the Rye (2017), and he portrays J.R.R. Tolkien in Tolkien.

Hoult is a gifted actor - he had wonderful chemistry, as a child, with Hugh Grant in About a Boy (2002). But he has a blandness that is not the stuff of creative writers. He could learn from Hugh Grant, who has an erratic, fatalistic charm.

In both films, about Salinger and Tolkien, wars psychologically damage the writers. [Salinger in WWII and Tolkien in WWI.] Forget religion - Tolkien's fervent Catholicism is not a factor in the movie, as it fundamentally was in his actual life and fiction. War sells, religion and writing, not so much. What's next for Hoult - Stephen Crane and Kurt Vonnegut?

Maybe the film Tolkien is merely for fans of the concocter of Middle-Earth, no matter what its depth. The film gives us a nice physical image of him.

Once when Hollywood offered Salinger a fortune to make a movie out of his novel The Catcher in the Rye, he rejected it saying, "Holden wouldn't like it."

Salinger died in January, 2010, before Rebel in the Rye was made. He wouldn't have recognized himself. He would have hated the movie.

It is doubtful that Tolkien, who died in September 1973, would have recognized himself in the contrived movie about him.

Would he agree that the gruesome images of warfare that are in the movie motivated his fiction? The makers of the movie think so.

There is occasional meaningful dialogue between Tolkien and Edith (Lily Collins) and between Tolkien and his professor at Oxford (Derek Jacobi), but director Dome Karukoski seldom lets language get in the way.

Instead he lets music often substitute for language. It is not the language of the soul. It is more the language of the stomach. It belches and is sated with musical calories.

Tolkien stays superficial in its presentation.

Music, not language, is "my precious."

© 2000-2019 Tony Macklin