The departure of Faramir – Why Peter Jackson’s most controversial Lord of the Rings change was also his best

Before Peter Jackson re-released his big screen adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy in 4K Ultra HD at the end of last year, he couldn’t resist tinkering with his beloved trio of blockbusters first. We’re not talking drastic, Star Wars: Special Edition-level changes here; all the original visual effects remain the same and Jackson hasn’t added any new scenes. Instead, Jackson has focused solely on remastering the colour timing and surround sound featured in The Fellowship of The Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King to make them more consistent – both with each other and with the newer Hobbit prequel trilogy.

This is good news for the legions of fans of Jackson’s Oscar-winning Middle-earth movies, who wouldn’t have accepted any changes being made to them… well, almost any changes. See, a sizeable segment of Tolkien devotees would support Jackson adopting a Godfather, Coda approach to re-editing The Two Towers if it meant changing how supporting player Faramir is characterised.

They’re dead wrong, though. Because Faramir’s portrayal in The Two Towers – while undeniably a major departure from the book – is actually a misunderstood feat of storytelling brilliance without which the movie (and the entire trilogy) wouldn’t work.

How is Faramir different in the Two Towers movie compared to the book?

So, what is all the fuss about how Faramir is depicted on screen? Is it really so different to how the young Captain of Gondor is described in Tolkien’s novels? In a word: yes.

The original prose versions of both The Two Towers and The Return of the King present Faramir as a gentle, reflective soul. He’s a reluctant (albeit capable) warrior who fights for the greater good, not for his own personal gratification or thirst for adventure. Tolkien’s Faramir is such a stand-up guy, he cheerfully rejects the One Ring. He’s so good, he even claims he wouldn’t take the Ring for himself if he found it on the side of the road (seriously!).

“I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway.”

Faramir in The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien

By contrast, Faramir as written by Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and portrayed by actor David Wenham, in the 2002 adaptation of The Two Towers is a decidedly less virtuous soul.

True, he’s still clearly a decent person – he’s able to see the error of his ways before the credits roll – and the film’s Extended Edition home release, and its sequel, The Return of the King, portray him in a more flattering light. There, Faramir’s kind-hearted, introspective nature is spotlighted more clearly, as is his strained relationship with his father Denethor, which somewhat rationalises his behaviour in The Two Towers.

But ultimately, the Faramir of the Lord of the Rings films is still someone who takes Frodo and Sam prisoner, stands back while his men dish out a savage beating to Gollum, and almost derails the entire quest to destroy the One Ring – all because of his daddy issues and inferiority complex.

Why do fans hate the film version of Faramir so much?

Jackson’s take on Faramir in The Two Towers is obviously markedly different to Tolkien’s – but why do fans object to it so intensely?

Well, for starters, Faramir in the 2002 adaptation is a lot less likeable than his literary counterpart. Positioned as secondary antagonist, he makes life tough for Frodo and Sam, partly because of the corrupting influence of the One Ring, but partly because of his deep-rooted need to prove himself the equal of his brother, Boromir.

In fairness to Lord of the Rings readers, Faramir’s harsher temperament in the Two Towers film is genuinely jarring, especially since he’s essentially an author surrogate. Tolkien modelled Faramir’s personality on his own – instilling in Faramir his own distaste for violence and preference for literature and music over more “manly” pursuits – which makes Jackson’s adjustments seem all the more galling.

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

Faramir in The Two Towers (2002)

But for most Tolkien fans, the real sticking point is that Faramir in the Two Towers adaptation isn’t much better than Boromir, something that’s crucial to Faramir’s characterisation in the book.

In the novel, Boromir’s visible valour is juxtaposed with Faramir’s inner virtue – with Faramir’s quiet moral conviction revealing him to be the more worthy of the two siblings. Sure, Boromir is fearless on the battlefield, but he’s too weak to resist the temptation of the One Ring; he even tries to snatch it from Frodo! To put it bluntly: this big, tough hero faces the biggest test of his life and fails (although he does atone for it later).

Faramir, however, passes with flying colours; he’s both shrewd and humble enough to realise almost immediately that taking the One Ring for himself (even for the right reasons) would be a really bad idea. Everybody (including his own father) might underestimate him, but Faramir’s strength of character ensures he has the strength to do what very few people in Middle-earth could – including Boromir.

Things aren’t so clear cut in Jackson’s version of The Two Towers, though. Here, Faramir comes perilously close to claiming the Ring to use on Gondor’s behalf before relenting, mirroring Boromir’s own moment of weakness in The Fellowship of the Ring. This makes the differences between them less pronounced – and gets fans’ noses out of joint, as a result.

Why Lord of the Rings fans are wrong about the movie version of Faramir

So why did Jackson, Walsh and Boyens meddle with a beloved Lord of the Rings character like Faramir in The Two Towers? Because they had to. That’s no exaggeration, either: if Faramir had been depicted on screen the same way as he is in Tolkien’s book, it would’ve been a disaster.

First of all, Faramir’s torment-free reaction to the One Ring would’ve seriously undermined the dramatic tension underpinning the entire trilogy. As Jackson, Walsh and Boyens have explained in interviews, if Faramir was shown to renounce the Ring without batting an eye, it would have undone all their hard work establishing its supernaturally irresistible, corrupting nature in Fellowship of the Ring.

If Faramir encounters the Ring and just shrugs his shoulders and moves on with his life, casual moviegoers would be left thinking that it isn’t so bad after all. The knock-on effect of this would be to diminish Frodo’s own struggles with the Ring in The Two Towers and The Return of the King – and that’s obviously not ideal.

Faramir’s unfailingly pure disposition in the books also left Jackson and his writing team (not to mention Wenham) with the same problem they faced with would-be king Aragorn: he had no character arc. Faramir in the source material is so incorruptible, his honour so unwavering, that he never grows: he’s exactly the same character when we leave him as when we first meet him.

“I think at last we understand one another, Frodo Baggins.”

Faramir, The Two Towers (2002)

From a dramatic perspective, that simply wouldn’t fly on film. Tolkien obsessives may baulk, but it’s more emotionally satisfying to see Faramir wrestle with his inner demons – his very human urge to please his uncaring father and be seen by the people of Gondor as the equal of his popular big brother – only for his inner decency to win out once he’s confronted by the Ring’s true, destructive nature.

Addressing both of these Faramir-centric storytelling hurdles allowed Jackson, Walsh and Boyens to neatly resolve the biggest narrative roadblock facing their Two Towers adaptation: the absence of any obstacle for Frodo and Sam to contend with.

After moving the two Hobbits’ showdown with Shelob from the end of The Two Towers to the middle of Return of the King – both to reflect the in-universe chronology of Tolkien’s novels and to avoid cross-cutting with the Battle of Helm’s Deep – Jackson and co needed to fill the gap left by this super-sized spider. With their version of Faramir now susceptible to the One Ring’s seductive pull, it’s not surprising that Jackson, Walsh and Boyens quickly decided he was a good fit for this Shelob-shaped hole – and it worked.

Sure, these are all fairly drastic deviations from the Lord of the Rings canon. But combined, this recalibration of Faramir’s emotional arc and his role in the story solves three potentially adaptation-sinking snags – which makes the Jackson trilogy’s most controversial change its most brilliant one, too!


Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter or Facebook!

10 thoughts on “The departure of Faramir – Why Peter Jackson’s most controversial Lord of the Rings change was also his best

  1. Nah, Peter Jacksons Faramir just fucking sucks.

    Hey remember that story arc from the first movie about the dickhead with daddy issues who falls for the temptation of the ring and regrets it, so here is Boromir with an f who is a dickhead with daddy issues who falls for the temptation of the ring and regrets it just to nail home just how bad the ring is despite it being abundantly clear from the start.

    Fuck that, book Faramir is a chill dude and a gentleman, movie Faramir is Boromir 2.0.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I completely disagree that Jackson’s version of Faramir was an improvement. I have read the books perhaps 50 times, including the entire trilogy out loud to my children and family once over a 6 week period. Tolkien’s story is a classic good vs evil story with religious (Tolkien was a devout Catholic) overtones. Jackson claimed that the reason he showed Faramir being tempted like Boromir was to convey that nobody could resist the temptation of the Ring. This was patently false, since Gandalf, Elrond, Aragorn, Gadadriel, Gimli, Legolas and many others showed no interest in or temptation for possession of the One Ring. Only persons who wish for the domination of others would be so tempted unless in physical possession (Smeagol, Bilbo and Frodo) for long periods. Faramir was faithful to the legacy of Numenor before its Fall and did not wish to rule over others by force. Boromir was the one who asked his father Denethor how long would it take for a Steward to become a King if the King did not return. Faramir’s moment of pause to face the West before the meal showed he trusted still in the values and virtues of Numenor, Elvenhome and Valinor above the strength of Gondor and the power of men at arms. Faramir was one of the High Men of the West while Boromir was already one of the Middle men and no longer had a higher purpose than to bring glory to himself. Apparently so is Peter Jackson and wanted to show that nobody could be strong of character enough to resist the desire to become a god by possessing the One Ring. But there are some of them left in Middle Earth, Aragorn is one and Faramir was another before Jackson’s character assassination. No wonder the Tolkien family thought they took the books and and made them into Blockbuster Action flicks. I give Jackson credit for the things he got right, Gollum for example, but he did not improve the Tolkien story, just the story for the non book-readers and casual moviegoers who do not want to think but just want to sit back and be entertained,

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are right. The thing is that the movies are pretty much simple, nothing under the images, and it would take much more effort to add the meanings from the book. And, also, it’s a massive audience film. So you can not expect most of those people, who just look for entertainment, to go deeper.
      I agree that the films could have been very good (again, as a visual, quite plain entertainment product), if they were original, and not the spectres of a masterpiece.

      Like

  3. To be honest, book-Faramir was so perfect I could only wonder why everyone wasn’t begging him to bring Theoden back from the dead. Everyone else was corrupted by the Ring (Faramir’s Older But Very Definitely Inferior brother, most notably) or at the very least sorely tempted — e.g. Gandalf and Galadriel — but to Faramir, it’s just ‘Wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole (disdainful sniff)’. If he could disregard it so easily, why on earth was poor Frodo having such problems with it and why did the rest have such a hard time? If Faramir really was Tolkien’s self-insertion character, it explains why he was so unrelentingly saintly.

    I think Jackson made the right decision: at least in the movie, Faramir was as human and fallible as all the other characters, and far more likeable. FTM, even Gandalf comes across as far less self-righteous and snide as he is in the books: his remarks about Boromir ‘just not having felt the pinch yet’ were the outside of enough.

    TBF, I realize that Tolkien was a man of his time and class, but I still find it hard to imagine expecting anyone to bow and scrape and rush to obey you merely because you were born in a particular bed — especially someone who’s been doing what’s supposed to be your job for you for years. If you give me orders — especially without explanations — you’d better come up with a far better reason than that.

    Like

    1. No one can Theoden return from the dead. And, he killed himself.
      It’s not true that no one could resist the Ring. Bilbo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Elrond, Galadriel, Frodo (at least, until the very end) did.
      Faramir wouldn’t touch it not because he would not be tempted (the only one who was not tempted at all is Tom Bombadil, missing in the films, who had the ring and played with it), but because he knew better than to allow temptation a way. He, as Gandalf, Galadriel, etc., knew that the One Ring was evil, and that he could/would fail if he took it. After all, he was more fond to Gandalf, and to wisdom, than his brother.
      BTW, Faramir was the one supposed to go to the Council of Elrond, not Boromir. Boromir went because of his pride, and his father (who wishes that it was Faramir, and not Boromir, the one dead).
      If Faramir was so fallible, he would have taken the Ring from Frodo, gone to his father’s place, put the Ring on before getting there, stood against the Nazgul, and perished that way. At least, if you pretend to have a tiny bit of consistency.
      TBF, it looks like you don’t have the imagination, or maybe the common sense, to understand some other things. Because, of course, you can project modern, easy, pacific, chaotic, no really endangered live as today’s to any kind of situation.
      But, hey, now you have Amazon’s Rings of Power, and you can enjoy it instead of feeling like a Xenomorph ripping out from your chest.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m quite easygoing about changes to lore and such in films, shows, etc. that are based on things I love. There was only one change in the LotR movies that bothered me: Faramir. He was always my favorite Tolkien character, so when TTT came out, friends and family were like “THAT’S your favorite? He’s an asshole!”

    To see why this change was NOT a good one, you only need to look to new viewers who have never read the books. Check out “first time watching The Two Towers” videos on YouTube- whether they’re watching the theatrical or extended edition, almost everyone hated Faramir to the point of yelling “F you! I hate this guy!!” at their screen. Because they’re set up to hate him, they later barely pay attention or care what happens to him in RotK. It’s heartbreaking. His character was supposed to show that there ARE good people out there, and the screenwriters made him the opposite of that 😞

    “The character didn’t make sense so we had to change him” is obviously bull; film-Aragorn is a ridiculously perfect person (I assumed Faramir was made an antagonist so Aragorn wouldn’t have any competition, especially seeing how they erased Eowyn/Faramir yet included made-up scene after scene about Arwen/Aragorn). As for Philippa Boyens saying “Faramir needed to become an obstacle” um, no. Make someone else the obstacle if you need one, don’t completely change a truly good character to the point where viewers actually hate him.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.