Since I had an obvious snub in mind for both Fellowship and Return of the King, I decided to throw one in for The Two Towers as well. Faramir is entirely left out of Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, and is probably left out of the Rankin/Bass The Return of the King…. again, I’m not sure if this is him.
Now granted, these two films combined don’t cover the entire The Lord of the Rings series, but Faramir gets the short end of both sticks. The bulk of his story just happens to come at the space between these two, although he has a part of play in the third book as well (Rankin/Bass just said screw it and put in more songs instead).
Then we have the Peter Jackson films. I understand changes have to be made in adaptations (Rosemary’s Baby aside), but there’s cutting something for time and then there’s completely changing a character. In the book, Faramir did take Frodo and Sam back to his fortress, and he was tempted by the ring, but the whole point of his character is that he resisted temptation.
Faramir is an obvious foil to his brother, the late Boromir. Boromir saw the ring, and while he tried to fight temptation, eventually fell under its power and tried to kill Frodo for it. Faramir saw the ring, knew what had happened to his own brother, and ultimately resisted the temptation. He is shown over and over to be incredibly caring and thoughtful, not treating Gollum badly even though the creature worries him, and gladly sending Frodo, Sam and Gollum on their way with as much as he can give them.
In Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers, Faramir is played by David Wenham and is basically just Boromir… except totally not, because Boromir was way kinder in these movies. Faramir and his men capture Frodo and Sam and treat them like prisoners. Faramir is prickly with all of them, but he is just an all-out villain to Gollum, having his men whip him and later almost strangling him himself.
Instead of letting them go, Faramir actually takes the three back to his father Denethor in Gondor, with the intention of using the ring in the war. It is an incredible time waster, as it has to end with Faramir letting them go anyway. Even then, he only does it when Gondor falls under attack and Sam tells him what the ring did to Boromir. Hey Sam, why did you wait so long to tell him? I’m sure that walk to Osgiliath took hours, why didn’t you say “Hey your brother wanted the ring, too. He’s kinda dead now.” Why does every human in these movies (Aragorn aside-ish) have to be a selfish war hawk?
What bothers me the most about this portrayal is the clear disdain on the screenwriters’ part for the way Faramir is portrayed in the novel. They genuinely seem to think the character is too good for their “Look how dark and gritty we are” portrayal. For example, screenwriter Philippa Boyens says,
We wanted to extend his character to give him more of a journey, and it would seem incongruous were Faramir immediately sea-green incorruptible; whereas all other Men in the film (even Aragorn) definitely have to wrestle with their conscience to a greater or lesser extent.
Is sea-green the same as true blue? I mean, I’m guessing it is. Of course Faramir has to wrestle with his conscience. Boromir did the same thing, but the point is Faramir wins the wrestling match. He defeats the temptation of the ring, and in the book it’s a moral question he has already thought through.
Peter Jackson says on Faramir,
We wanted the episode with Faramir in this particular film to have a certain degree of tension. Frodo and Sam were captured. Their journey had become more complicated by the fact that they are prisoners. Which they are in the book for a brief period of time. But then, very quickly in the book, Tolkien sort of backs away from there and, as you say, he reveals Faramir to be very pure.
It is very clear by watching his films that Jackson is obsessed with creating tension where he doesn’t see any in the text. I understand keeping the story going, but not everything has to be a life-or-death conflict. The ring creates conflict enough of its own just by Frodo carrying it. Sure, the Faramir encounter isn’t incredibly perilous in the book, but that’s kind of the point. We are expecting Frodo and Sam to be captured by evil men who would want to take the ring, when in reality they have found an ally. If you really wanted to make it more dramatic, maybe some of Faramir’s men could have tried to take the ring and Faramir had to stop them or banish them. It ups the danger but doesn’t make Faramir out to be a terrible person. Maybe even his own men criticize him for being too good in these dark times, and he has to prove them wrong by doing the moral thing in the face of danger. Not every character needs to be an anti-hero.
Now, not everything done with Faramir is bad, at least not in the extended cut. Peter Jackson really plays up the fact that Denethor preferred Boromir over Faramir, but also the fact that Boromir and Faramir hated this and loved each other greatly. In fact, one of the best scenes in The Two Towers, only in the extended cut, shows Boromir (Sean Bean) and Faramir celebrating a victory together and regretting the fact that their father is about to ruin it. In just a few minutes, we completely get the relationship between the two brothers, their father and even their deceased mother.
This feels like a scene that would have been perfectly in-line with book Faramir, and I guess it is trying to suggest that we can blame all of Faramir’s awful actions on his father, but it doesn’t make him that much more sympathetic. If he knows his father is not well, why is he trying to please him by bringing him the ring?
Still, it’s a brilliant scene, meaning Sean Bean is one of the best things in both of these movies so far.
Ultimately, the portrayal of Faramir is one of the most disappointing things about Jackson’s films. It doesn’t ruin the whole film or anything, but there was potential for brilliance in these scenes, and instead we got more of the same. Next week, we’ll find out if the whole film stands the test of time.