Will the Real Faramir Please Stand Up?

This isn’t really a movie or book review as much as it is a character analysis. However, we’re not just putting one character under the microscope – we’ll be examining two.

Let’s face it, Tolkien’s Faramir and Peter Jackson’s Faramir (portrayed by David Wenham) are hardly the same person. You could argue that in Jackson’s rendition of Return of the King, Faramir is more true to the nature of the character, but that’s only after his eyes have been opened by a near-catastrophe (namely when Frodo and the Ring are almost snatched by the Nazgul in The Two Towers). In Jackson’s Two Towers, however, Faramir is completely unrecognizable.

While I love both Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the movies Peter Jackson presented to us and have tried my best to think of them as separate entities, the liberty taken in the reinvention of Faramir’s character is so hard for me to stomach. The changes Jackson made are, in my opinion, egregious.

So what was changed, and why? Time for a showdown between Peter Jackson’s worldview and that of the great J.R.R. Tolkien.

In Jackson’s version of The Two Towers, after Frodo and Sam bump into Faramir, he soon finds out (via brutal interrogation of Gollum) that they are in possession of the One Ring. Faramir has ever lived in the shadow of his revered older brother, Boromir, who is much loved and pretty much idolized by their father, Denethor. In Denethor’s eyes, Faramir can’t hold a candle to Boromir. Poor Faramir has daddy issues. His intense desire to gain his father’s respect evolves into an unhealthy obsession, because it leads him to hold Frodo at sword point and stubbornly insist that the Ring be taken to Minas Tirith, where his father is caretaker of the throne.

“A chance for Faramir, captain of Gondor, to show his quality.”

The man isn’t using his head. The Ring is solely a force of evil and only corrupts those foolish enough to wield it. And yet, Faramir would risk this for the sake of gaining honor and acceptance from his father. His pride has blinded him, and prudence and integrity are cast aside. As a result of his selfishness, the Ring comes dangerously close to falling into the hands of the enemy. But remember, this is Jackson’s Faramir, not Tolkien’s.

So who is Tolkien’s Faramir? Let me rephrase that. Who is the real Faramir? He is not insecure and he is not recklessly ambitious. In Tolkien’s Two Towers, when discovering (by way of Sam’s slip-up) that Frodo and Sam have the Ring, Faramir demonstrates remarkable strength of character.

“‘Not if I found it on the highway would I take it,’ I said. Even if I were such a man as to desire this thing, and even though I knew not clearly what this thing was when I spoke, still I should take these words as a vow, and be held by them. But I am not such a man. Or I am wise enough to know that there are some perils from which a man must flee. Sit at peace! And be comforted, Samwise. If you seem to have stumbled, think that it was fated to be so. Your heart is shrewd as well as faithful, and saw clearer than your eyes. For strange though it may seem, it was safe to declare this to me. It may even help the master that you love. It shall turn to his good, if it is in my power. So be comforted.”

That is a man with his head screwed on straight. A man of integrity and commendable moral standing. A man with common sense; he doesn’t have to step in the mud to know that it could get his shoe dirty.

So what are the opposing worldviews?

I believe Jackson’s intention was to give us someone we could relate to. Somehow he probably thought that this would add value to Faramir as a character. I could understand this if perhaps it wasn’t so drastically different from the original Faramir. Is Tolkien’s Faramir somehow less valuable as a character, less believable? Has the concept of the doing the right thing the first time become so foreign in our culture? I’m not saying that any one of us is perfect, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t have compassion and patience for one another because we absolutely should. After all, King David committed some heinous acts of selfishness and is still remembered as a “man after God’s own heart.” However, when we take the example of someone who does what is right at the first opportunity and try to make them more relatable by making them weaker, aren’t we undermining the value of such an example? And aren’t we doing ourselves a disservice by not allowing ourselves to be challenged?

Rather than giving us a character that might encourage us to feel comfortable with our weaknesses, Tolkien provided us with the challenge of considering a character we can really learn from. He didn’t just give us someone we can relate to, he gave us an example we can aspire to.

“Or I am wise enough to know that there are some perils from which a man must flee.”

When I read that part of the excerpt, I imagine Joseph running from Potiphar’s temptress of a wife. And before he ran, he had already turned down her adulterous advances on more than one occasion. He didn’t need to engage in adultery to know that he shouldn’t do it. And Joseph was no fictional character – he was flesh and blood, like you and me. Yet he set an example that we should follow. So why is it so hard to see a fictional character setting the same kind of example?

Maybe from where Peter Jackson was sitting at the time he was filming The Two Towers, taking the admirable course of action from the beginning wasn’t a principal worth sharing with the world.

Evidently, Tolkien disagreed.

Will I concede that Jackson demonstrated the value of learning from mistakes? Sure. I can give him credit in that regard. However, at the same time, it must also be understood that experiencing our own mistakes is not the only way we can gain wisdom. In his exchanges with Frodo and Sam, it is apparent that Tolkien’s Faramir has already learned. . . from the foolish ways of those who came before him. If you don’t learn from history, then you are doomed to repeat it. Tolkien’s Faramir is very well aware of the follies that ravaged the kings and noblemen of old, whereas Jackson’s Faramir pays them no mind.

“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. ”
~ 1 Corinthians 10:11-12

Andrew Walton

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