I am Frodo Baggins: How the Moria Scene Speaks to The 2020 Pandemic
During this time in quarantine, the movie genres I have enjoyed most have been sci-fi, superhero flicks, and fantasy. Nothing new about that since a lot of us have nothing better to do than sit at home and either work, wait to get off furlough, look for work, or worst case, care for loved ones being infected or being infected ourselves.
These movies are distractions from reality, always have been. But something they often do is try to connect to the Human zeitgeist that is our common experiences. The spectrum of how people react to the extraordinary circumstances of the story. This was something I have always had mixed feelings about because few people I ever saw the movies with took them seriously, or at best they were regarded as a distant truth. However, there was a scene in Fellowship of the Ring that hit me extra hard with it’s truth and suddenly made it feel not so distant after all.
"Hobbits have been living and farming in the four farthings of the Shire for many hundreds of years. Quite content to ignore and be ignored by the world of the big folk"— Bilbo Baggins, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001
A Hard Truth
In the movie, the crew is journeying through the mines of Moria after nearly being killed by a squid-like monster at it’s entrance. The entire sequence is dark, eerie, and feels very old. That something bad had occurred here in the distant past and they were just walking through the echoes of it. During a break, Frodo Baggins notices that they are being followed and tells Gandolf. To which the wizard responds that he is already aware of it and that it is Gollum, the former bearer of the One Ring before Frodo’s uncle, Bilbo, took it. Yet another distant event.
The current bearer scowls that his uncle should have killed Gollum back then and Gandolf chastises him for it, telling him that it was Bilbo’s pity that spared Gollum and questions Frodo about who has the right to determine who lives and dies. Now filled with remorse, Frodo confides to Gandolf in the overbearing darkness that,
“I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
The wizard’s gently replies,
“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us”,
I saw the movie when it was out in theaters in 2001. I remember it being a strong statement then, but not really relating to it beyond a philosophical idea. Looking at the scene now though, it strikes a completely different chord. It is different from other rousing cinema experiences in that it's a major event viewed through honest eyes and given an honest voice. At the same time, it also provides an equally honest spoken word about life, while providing a lifeline to pull the viewer through and not leaving us in that moment of despair.
Because I am now living in an extraordinary situation where the entire world is literally under threat. People are dying and everyone unilaterally is truly in danger. Online is filled with comments from people struggling to get by anyway they can. Many people are seemingly becoming the feral monsters that I usually see in movies, taunting people, taking advantage of others, and becoming more prejudiced out of fear for their own lives. While others still are playing a blame game or are trying to take credit for handling the situation the best.
Though pandemics are not historically unusual, many of us sitting in our comfortable homes watching Netflix never foresaw that one day something we saw as a distant threat thousands of miles away would radically alter and shape not only our lives and lifestyles, but the very planet itself. Suddenly we are all Frodo Baggins in that moment in the darkness of Moria,
“I wish none of this had happened.”
It says a lot about us in many ways. How humanity are often Hobbits, not noticing or caring what happens elsewhere in the world until elsewhere becomes here. That we live under the illusion that we control the world around us because of our tech and understanding of science, only to be upended by uncontrollable nature. About how our self-proclaimed civilized order and morality can become easily destabilized when our lives are under pressure and threatened.
Yet the scene concludes not with the condemning of a hard truth we wanted to ignore, but rather of hope. That though we never truly control the circumstances that impede upon our lives, we still have the ability to choose to rise to the occasion. We are seeing this everyday from the healthcare workers who are putting their lives on the line, to those people still working at stores to provide goods that are needed, to many people just being kind to each other and supporting each other. Even singing like in Italy.
I am not going to say that the Lord of the Rings films and books are prophetic. Especially given how much Tolkien hated allegory and was writing primarily from his own experiences in World War One. However, it is rare that a film can so perfectly transcend eras in time to perfectly capture the emotions of the moment in any era, while inspiring its viewers to rise above the situation.