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A Life of Love, Courage & Fellowship.
A stirring portrait of personal fellowship. And a tale of how the ravages of war can inspire a work of great triumph and light. Tolkien possesses the soulful nature that all biopics should aspire to capture.
We’ve already seen quite a few biographical films hit the market in 2019, and there’s definitely more to come through the rest of the year. And when making a biopic involving someone like legendary author J.R.R. Tolkien, there are obvious subjects that stand out as standard fodder for what seems like a routine errand. As it turns out though, Tolkien sidesteps the obvious subject of its titular author’s literary creation. You know, those crazy Hobbits, and instead focuses on something infinitely more appealing. The life he lived that inspired Middle Earth’s eventual existence.
Also working in the film’s favor is the fact that Tolkien partially feels like a biopic mixed in with a loose remake of Dead Poets Society. That’s not meant as an insult, as the fellowship that develops between Tolkien and his inspirational schoolmates is a friendship depicted so well. It acts as one half of the emotional compass that informs how the film depicts the inspiration of reality on the core of Middle Earth’s existence.
Boyle, Gibson, and Glynn-Carney all shine as the schoolmates that Hoult’s Tolkien adores as friends, and it should also be said that all four of Tolkien’s main fellowship actors have tip top chemistry with each other. Though it should also be noted that all of the actors performances also map well with those of their younger childhood counterparts. Which only ties the emotional threads of Tolkien tighter and more effectively together.
Fans of Lord of the Rings will enjoy spotting allusions to Tolkien’s stories as the young man is inspired by love, war and changing times. But writer Stephen Beresford and the filmmakers decided not to make the film a parade of explicit references to The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. He hasn’t written the books yet, so you can’t take things from the books directly. But he is emotionally growing into that man who will. So what were the steps he was taking, or how did he find the instruments to play the music later?
The film deftly interweaves Tolkien’s real world with the fantasy world developing in his head. That actually required a lot of thought from the filmmakers and visual effects company One of Us. “It’s a question of texture,” explains Karukoski. “How does tweed cloth fit with CGI?”
Karukoski’s previous films include a biopic that profiled iconic gay artist Tom of Finland and an earlier movie inspired by an author who’d written a story based on her father. I went to meet with the author. You’re the director; you do whatever you want. Just make it work! And that’s been the guideline. You make choices, you take artistic license, but you do it so you can flush out the emotional truth.
Telling the story of J.R.R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) through his childhood of hardship and service in of World War I, Tolkien shows how through the love for one woman (Lily Collins). As well as four best friends from childhood. (Anthony Boyle, Patrick Gibson, and Tom Glynn-Carney). The author would create one of the greatest works in modern literature.
Having a story focused more on Tolkien as a person. Rather than merely the creator of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Is an approach that make biopics like Tolkien a better experience than a standard “greatest hits” biography. While director Dome Karukoski’s film, based on a script by writers David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford, does indeed dance around the Middle Earth component of the author’s life, it’s in creative glimpses and teases.
That approach proves how well Tolkien understands that the more interesting part of the story isn’t its actual creation, but how life influenced J.R.R. Tolkien to make his mark on the world of literature and academia. The fashion that the film does so is also notable, as rather than winking and nudging at its audience, Tolkien gives enough details to let the audience pull things together for themselves.