I wrote this audio commentary in March 2004, inspired by a similar spoof written by Jeff Alexander and Tom Bissell for The Fellowship of the Ring. I follow the story of Frodo and Sam in the next two films, and, likewise, with all the politically-correct sanctimony I can muster. Don’t read this if you’re easily offended — or if Zinn, Chomsky, and Said are precious to you.
Audio-commentary for The Two Towers & The Return of the King:
The Story of Frodo and Sam
by Loren Rosson III
We begin at the feet of Emyn Muil, where Gollum is getting ready to pounce on the sleeping hobbits. It’s important to remember that Gollum was once a hobbit, and that backbiting is a favored tactic of this race (recall Merry and Pippin leaping onto the back of the cave-troll and stabbing it from behind). Frodo and Sam, of course, are engaged in their own sleazy tactic of feigning slumber, so as to surprise Gollum in turn. As we proceed through this commentary, it will become abundantly plain that Frodo and Sam are vicious cowards — a far cry from the heroes they’re usually made out to be. Now Gollum rightfully curses them as “thieves”. He speaks nothing but the truth. Bilbo stole his ring, and Frodo has no more legitimate claim to it than his uncle ever did. Look at this cat-fight — all three of them grabbing, biting, kicking each other. It’s all below-the-belt and very typical of hobbits.
Now we have this outrageous spectacle which lays bare the propaganda surrounding “Samwise the Brave”. This is Samwise the Sadist, pure and simple — choking Gollum, yanking him through rock and dirt, thoroughly indifferent to his screams of agony. So all of Galadriel’s gifts are instruments of violence, even a rope, which goes a long way toward dispelling the myth of elves as peace-loving people. And notice how Frodo’s outward display of “pity” is a facade which masks his true motive for removing the rope, as he suddenly realizes he can exploit Gollum as a guide to Mordor. Someone of genuine pity would not have permitted a starving and emaciated creature to be choked and dragged over the ground to begin with! Frodo is actually worse than Sam, because his evil is cunning and veiled. While Sam is openly sadistic, Frodo secretly revels in sadism until it conflicts with his own needs.
The Dead Marshes
Cut now to the Dead Marshes, where Frodo and Sam continue their shameless exploitation and terrorization of Gollum. Notice how Gollum cringes in front of Sam like a whipped dog, calling him a “nice hobbit”. Gollum lives in a perpetual state of terror, much like an abused wife, never knowing when Sam will lash out at him. He has been abused and mistreated everywhere and by everyone — Sauron, the wood-elves, Aragorn, Gandalf, and now the hobbits. It’s analogous to a teen-ager who has been continually bullied by his peers and scorned by his parents and teachers. Should we be surprised when Gollum later tries engineering the death of the hobbits anymore than by the shootings at Columbine High School?
Now look at this. Gollum’s neck is on the line as he leads the hobbits through the Dead Marshes. Sure, let him test the waters. Let him sprain an ankle. Let him take a plunge down to those horrible spectres. And despite this, it is Frodo who incompetently falls in! So there is at least some poetic justice in this world. Gollum rescues Frodo — showing far more decency than either hobbit has shown him — and so we’re again forced to ask why he is supposedly so bad.
This next scene really makes me mad, where Frodo taunts Gollum with his real name, “Smeagol”. It’s obvious that he’s making fun of him — making him feel ashamed of the creature he’s now become. Nobody wants to accept Gollum for who he is, but Frodo goes out of his way to reinforce the creature’s self-hate by implicitly mocking him.
The Black Gate
Here we come to the Black Gate. The Black Gate. We’re right back to fear — fearing the other. Anything from an unknown culture is invariably black. First it was black riders on black horses; now it’s a black gate. The racist implications are obvious.
Notice how Frodo really has no idea what he’s doing, and that he’s too paralyzed by xenophobic cowardice to make a responsible decision in any case. He’s been duped into destroying a worthless ring by Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel, who have poisoned his mind with litanies of racial hate. So now that he’s come to the front door of Mordor he can only perceive its inhabitants as monsters — even the men, whose eyes are “slanted” so as to appear Asian. Again, the racism is transparent. Now Gollum is genuinely concerned for Frodo, because he knows from first-hand experience how deadly Mordor can be: he has suffered unspeakable torture inside. His fear of Mordor is very reasonable (as is his fear of just about every other place, like Mirkwood Forest, for the same reason). By contrast, Frodo and Sam have an irrational fear of Mordor based on prejudice, hate, and the lies fed to them by Gandalf. See, watch how Frodo feverishly grabs at the opportunity to postpone his entry into Mordor as Gollum advises him of an alternate route. It’s ridiculous. Gollum doesn’t mention the Tower of Cirith Ungol, but Frodo isn’t so stupid to think that any pass into Mordor could be unguarded. Whether it’s the Black Gate or some other fortress… And look how he patronizes Gollum for “being true to his word”, which keeps up the pretext for postponing his pointless quest.
Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Now it’s Samwise the Cruel, jeering at Gollum as he struggles to catch fish. “Stinker” is the sort of name-calling we would expect from a juvenile, which says a lot about Sam’s maturity level. The hobbits are bullies down to the core of their beings. Frodo was mocking Gollum with his real name, and now Sam insults him with a make-up name. The creature’s self-hate is reinforced left and right. But now we come to the crux of the matter as Frodo proceeds to give Sam a tongue-lashing for picking on Gollum. The ensuing argument between the two hobbits is revealing, because Frodo is simply projecting his own problems onto Sam. It takes one to know one. He sees himself in Sam, because he harbors the same despicable thoughts, even if he is more covert in expressing them. “When people condemn others they condemn themselves”, and no incident in the film better illustrates the proverb than this one here.
This is heartbreaking: Gollum’s fit of schizophrenia. We should pause now and examine more closely the source of animosity between him and Sam. Why do they constantly bicker with each other? Why is Sam so spiteful? Why, moreover, does Gollum desperately want to perceive the equally spiteful Frodo as his “friend”? I would venture that the answer to all these questions lies in the burning desire both Sam and Gollum have for Frodo. It is abundantly obvious that Sam has wanted to fuck Frodo up the ass from the word go. And who can blame him? Gollum is probably impotent, but his psychological lust is made plain from the way he continually fawns on Frodo — recall the way he kept rubbing his hands all over him at the Black Gate? It’s jealousy, pure and simple, but someone like Sam has no excuse for engaging in such petty rivalry over perceived threats to a friendship. Is he so insecure? Is he sexually frustrated? Is there a conflict between his desire for Frodo and that for Rose, or is he simply bisexual? These are the kind of questions we need to be asking ourselves.
Now this scene really pisses me off, and you don’t have to be a vegetarian to appreciate why. We’re supposed to be disgusted by Gollum’s “barbarism” as he plunges his teeth into raw rabbit. But Sam is no better! There is no proper or humane way “to eat a brace of coneys”. Would the poor rabbits have cared whether their carcasses were subsequently eaten raw or cooked? Don’t they have a right to live as much as any creature? Like all free-folk of Middle-Earth, Sam has a veneer of cultured civilization, passing off his own barbarisms as enlightened etiquette. The hypocrisy is gargantuan, the cruelty astounding. For Gollum to retaliate by calling Sam a “stupid fat hobbit” may be sinking to the hobbit’s own level, but the insult isn’t entirely inappropriate. For this is Samwise the Sick; Samwise the Slob.
The Forbidden Pool
Faramir’s interrogation reveals how deceitful hobbits are by nature. But before we get to that, notice in passing Sam’s snotty retort about being Frodo’s gardener. Faramir is asking legitimate questions, and Sam is being a juvenile smart-ass. But Samwise the Snot pales beside Frodo the False, who claims that Boromir was his friend: a bald-faced lie. Frodo resented Boromir from the get-go, since he constantly threatened his prestige as the symbolic leader of the Fellowship. Yet Frodo is a coward at heart and never really wanted to be the Ringbearer. Boromir finally called his bluff, aggressively, for which Frodo could never forgive him. Catch the gleam of satisfaction in Frodo’s eye as Faramir tells them his brother is dead. It’s there all right, if you look carefully.
As if deceit weren’t bad enough, we get treachery at the Forbidden Pool. Frodo’s plea that Faramir spare Gollum’s life is subterfuge so as to allow him the satisfaction of snaring the creature himself. Then too, he still needs a guide to Mordor (a moment of honesty there). Now just look at the cunning smile on Frodo’s face as he beckons Gollum like a dog. He obviously relishes this sort of trickery. And…Jesus Christ! Look at this! These are men of Gondor, and look how they treat an unarmed captive: shoving a bag over his head, throwing him down, kicking him in the gut, punching him, and throwing him against the wall. Is this the kind of behavior we should expect from (supposedly) the most advanced and enlightened society of humans in Middle-Earth? Apparently so.
The detour to Osgiliath, absent from Tolkien’s books, is entirely pointless and used only for the sake of propaganda, portraying Gondor as fighting a “defensive” war. Are we really to believe that Faramir and his men haven’t been on the offensive in Ithilien? What is Henneth Annun other than a secret base from which to launch preemptive strikes and covert operations? This is warmongering and militarism at its worst.
Observe how Frodo and Sam have internalized the violence which has enveloped them ever since they left the Shire. Sam attacks Frodo (does he want to rape him?) under the pretense of “saving” him from the Nazgul, and Frodo retaliates by screaming like a Neanderthal and putting Sting to his throat. At this stage of the story it has become conclusively evident that friends are more lethal than enemies. Recall Arwen greeting Aragorn with a sword to his throat, the Lothlorien elves welcoming the Fellowship at arrow-point, and Legolas (defending Gimli) coming within a hair’s breadth of shooting Eomer — nothing more than a knee-jerk projection of his own anti-dwarf impulses. The free folk of Middle-Earth seem hell-bent on destroying themselves, let alone phantom enemies from Mordor.
Now it’s Samwise the Crybaby. He can dish it out but can’t take it. And look, he can’t even face Frodo — so ashamed of crying — that he turns his back on him and starts rattling off a ridiculous and sentimental monologue about archaic heroism. In the end it comes back to war. Frodo wonders (quite rightly), “What are we holding onto, Sam?”, and Sam responds (quite predictably), “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.” Worth fighting for. Of course. The hobbits have become warmongers like everyone else.
The Morgul Vale
Frodo is drawn to the city of Minas Morgul as if he wants to be enlightened for the first time. What, after all, is there to fear? What do we really know about the Nazgul? We’re supposed to believe that the Ring is malevolently propelling him forward, but that’s rubbish. The Ring has nothing to do with it. Frodo is having a moment of genuine curiosity about Nazgul culture. But true to form, Samwise the Chickenshit “snaps him out of it”, yanking him back into his world of xenophobic hate. (Gollum pulls him back too, though we must recall his good reason to be frightened of Mordor’s minions.) Now Frodo cringes at the blue flame suddenly leaping from the tower, but I think we see envious awe mixed with his fear. The Tower of the Moon would be among the Seven Wonders of Middle Earth if the free peoples weren’t such biased rednecks.
Whoa! Catch this spectacle of the Witch-King descending on his fell beast. Now it burns my tongue to say that, because “Witch-King” and “fell beast” are offensive deviance labels telling us more about those who use them than the beings themselves. They demonize the other and perpetuate fear. Indeed, the hobbits are now racked with terror — though not from any superstitious Black Breath. The Nazgul shrieking scares them in the same way a rabbi singing the Torah scares a Nazi. It’s foreign; something alien. It’s impossible to overstate the racism being presented here. The Morgul-King actually strikes me as a figure of dignity (and his poor army is fighting a defensive war, recall from Osgiliath). If his spiked appearance and dragon-steed look scary to us, then perhaps we need to readjust what we think is scary.
The Stairs of Cirith Ungol
Now Gollum gets a feverish look in his eyes as he fixates on what is rightfully his. He should snatch the Ring and bolt instead of helping Frodo up the stairs, but he does the noble thing anyway — and in the middle of being cursed and yelled at by Sam. Gollum justly demands to know why Sam hates him so much. What has Smeagol ever done to him? Besides going out of his way to do everything the hobbits want! Notice his genuine compassion for Frodo followed by an acute analysis of “the fat one”. He knows that Sam is a gluttonous thief who has been projecting bad intentions onto him. In many ways Gollum is the true wizard of the story, offering Frodo better counsel than Gandalf ever did — as he does now with his sagacious prediction that “the fat one” will try to steal the Ring.
Which is exactly what happens next. As they break for sleep, Gollum launches the first stage of his plan by throwing away all of the lembas bread and sprinkling crumbs of the evidence on Sam. Granted this is deceitful (Gollum’s hobbit nature taking over), with what choice is he left? He’s constantly terrorized by Sam and wants him gone. I actually thrill to Gollum’s character when he accuses Sam of eating all the food and stuffing his face like a greedy slob. He’s more a cunning fox than an actual villain. It’s understandable that — Jesus, will you look at this? Sam is beating the shit out of him. The sadism is here is intolerable, and even Frodo is genuinely appalled. But the jig is really up when Sam tries to appease him by making a lame offer to help carry the Ring — “share the load”, as he preposterously puts it — and gets banished for the thief that he is. He panicked and let his true colors show. It doesn’t matter that Gollum’s particular accusation is false, because it is based on a truth far more profound: that Sam is a gluttonous thief who has indeed coveted the Ring all along.
Gollum is now free to launch the second stage of his plan. He directs Frodo into a tunnel which we know leads to Shelob’s Lair. But “lair” is another deviance label. It predisposes us to view the occupant as a monster before we even meet her. Should we call hobbit holes “lairs”? (They’re actually quite similar: curving walls, underground, labyrinthine.) This is Shelob’s home, be it ever so humble, and Frodo is an intruder. Look how he’s horrified by the sticky webbing and sight of so many snared creatures. But this is how spiders survive as a species. There is nothing malicious about it, especially when done in the privacy of one’s home. (More cruel and offensive is the killing and stewing of rabbits in their own habitat.)
Here comes the queen herself. Look how beautiful and majestic she is. But we’re supposed to cheer for Frodo as he brandishes the Phial of Galadriel, screams an elvish curse, and flees like a coward down the labyrinth. Would we cheer for an intruder of Bag End who shoved a lantern in Frodo’s eyes and shouted at him as he stumbled out of bed? Who then sashayed through his kitchen, smashing dishware — just as we now see him slicing apart this beautifully intricate web-lattice? I certainly don’t cheer for his narrow escape, anymore than for his subsequent murder of Gollum by throwing him off the cliff!
This part, on the other hand, makes me cheer with loud righteous joy: Shelob’s revenge. It’s one of the few times we get to see the innocent paying back the guilty in spades. Look at Frodo’s mouth foam. If this hobbit doesn’t deserve to be spider-feed, no one does… I take that right back. There’s another hobbit who more than deserves the same fate, and he’s back for more: Samwise the Speciesist. Sam is as fat and poisonous as Shelob, armed with venomous insults (like “filth”) and an endless supply of dirty tricks. Hobbits actually make good adversaries of giant spiders. They know all the sly tricks in the book, every feint, when to back-bite, and where it counts the most. See how he deviously dodges, rolls away, leaps, somersaults over the spider’s back, kicks, dodges, jumps, rolls — never engaging combat, evading like a craven, until finally, more by accident, Shelob lands on his upraised sword. And now he gets aggressive, sure, backing her against the wall with intent to murder. That’s what hobbits do: kill enemies when they’re down. Thankfully for Shelob, the wall has an escape route. This entire episode is about two malicious juveniles tormenting a spider, and their arachnophobia being made to look heroic.
Now this epilogue makes me vomit every time, where Sam gushes crocodile tears. He is thoroughly incapable of forgiving Frodo and only came back to kill him (and Gollum) and then take the Ring for himself. Naturally the camera doesn’t show him pocketing the Ring at first opportunity. Look at the dawning horror on his face when the orcs arrive and declare Frodo not dead. “Not dead? Samwise, you fool.” Translation: “You should have stabbed him, Samwise, just to be sure.”
The Tower of Cirith Ungol
Cut to the tower chamber, where Shagrat and Gorbag are feuding over Frodo’s mithril vest. Convict behavior, to be sure, but that’s essentially what the orcs are: inmates of an over-crowded prison. They’ve been sealed away in Mordor all their lives, faced with harsh economic sanctions, in a miserable habitat of cliffs and wastelands. If I were an orc living in these conditions, I’d be looting and torturing foreign yuppies myself.
We’re meant to see the orcs as evil and full of discord, but the truth is they are desperate. Economically deprived people become enviously possessive and prone to strife, which is the sad outcome of this scene. A brawl here, a fall there, and before we know it, the orcs are massacring each other. They’re trapped in a cycle of violence through no fault of their own.
Cut back to Sam. Victory over Shelob has gone to his head, and he thinks he can take on the world. His rage is endless, and he wants the satisfaction of rubbing Frodo’s nose in the fact that he got the better of him before gutting him with his own sword. So he turns into a fantasy — Samwise the Superman, leaping turrets in a single bound, flying up the tower stairs, roaring like The Hulk, and dispatching three orcs single-handedly. But if Sam is a superhero, I’m a Balrog. That he can invade the tower so easily and take on multiple attackers without getting scratched just proves that orcs aren’t dangerous. They’re a peace-loving people who have been conditioned into violence by warmongering neighbors. Notice, by the way, how Sam is perfectly visible, even though we know (from the books) that he’s wearing the Ring.
Now Sam bursts into the top chamber and murders Shagrat, feeding his rage and Superman fantasy. Frodo rejoices, unable to believe his eyes — and unaware of being just seconds away from following Shagrat into the Great Beyond. But something stops Sam; and it’s not Frodo’s lame-ass apology. He’s utterly transfixed by the sight of his friend naked from the waist up. He’s practically drooling. He hands over the Ring, mesmerized, and we can almost feel his hard-on, hear his panting, as Frodo slides the chain around his neck. Wrath has given way to lust. It’s no longer a sword he wants to run through Frodo. He’s prepared to “be friends again” for a chance to nail him up the ass until he screams.
The Slopes of Mount Doom
As the hobbits make their way across Mordor, we see the Great Eye looming in the distance. This is supposed to fill us with fear and trepidation, but the Eye of Sauron is no more menacing than the Wizard of Oz. Quite the contrary: Sauron is a wise and beneficent entity who would only ask people to take a long and hard look at themselves. On the slopes of Mount Doom, Frodo and Sam are forced to do exactly that — and they hate what they see. Frodo sees a gullible fool duped by a fascist wizard into destroying a completely worthless ring; a pawn in a political power-game; a tool of war propaganda. It’s no surprise that he can’t recall the taste of food and sound of water, because the Eye has blinded him to everything except that which matters most right now: the cruel facts. The Eye is truly horrifying in this sense; it’s terrifying to see oneself for the first time. Sam is faced with his own demons. He sees a sadist with a whole catalog of sins — gluttony, greed, wrath, lust — and as he cradles Frodo, he breaks down and cries, shamed (for the first time in his entire life) by the knowledge that all he wants to do at this moment is rape his best friend on the mountainside.
Now things get interesting. Sam suddenly wants to prove his worth, as if breaking his back for an empty quest will atone for a lifetime of crimes. Defying the Eye (and the bulge in his pants), he begins carrying Frodo up the mountainside — Now this is truly ridiculous. Gollum is dead. He was murdered by Frodo outside Shelob’s home. If Peter Jackson wants us to believe that he fell 5000 feet only to spring out of nowhere like a boogieman at this last possible moment, then he’s been smoking too much pipeweed. “Gollum” is just part of Sam’s denial to keep the fantasy going. “Gollum” allows him to play Samwise the Superman. And that’s exactly what he does — attacking his hallucination in order to exonerate himself as a hero.
The Cracks of Doom
But what about Frodo? As he stands at the Cracks of Doom, the Eye once again asks him to look inward. And staring at the Ring, he sees it for what it is: not a Ring, but a ring, a worthless trinket, yet the cause of so much bloodshed. The truth is outrageous and has him shaking in tears. Cursing Gandalf for his perfidious lies, he hurls the ring into the fire, where it is instantly destroyed. And of course nothing happens. Nothing at all.
But we see things through the eyes of Sam, whose Gollum-fantasy has gone into overdrive. The capering illusion should be dead twice over — smashed in the head with a rock and disemboweled by Sting — but it’s back and ready for more, clubbing Sam from behind and knocking him to the ground. Through the haze of his “pain”, Sam looks ahead to see Frodo claiming the Ring. He watches a nonexistent Gollum struggling with an invisible (but in fact perfectly visible) Frodo, who loses finger and Ring to the mirage; Frodo pushing the creature off the edge, then falling himself; and Samwise the Superman pulling him to safety. Pure rubbish, but this will be the hobbits’ story when they return home.
Now Sauron is thoroughly dismayed. He has managed to get two members of the most malicious race in Middle-Earth to examine themselves, but with results less than promising. The hobbits will only tell lies when they leave Mordor — that they tried their best, but Sauron got the Ring back from them, and more military power is needed than ever before. War and racism will go on. Frodo knows the truth about Gandalf and the elves, but he will never have the balls to expose them. Sauron sees only one option remaining: self-destruction. If he kills himself, the orcs will at least have a temporary reprieve from war. The fascist powers will think they have won, and a new age of “peace” (i.e. cold war) will begin, restoring at least some political and economic balance. So Sauron desists… the Eye implodes… Barad-dur comes crumbling down… and Frodo conveniently erases from memory everything the Eye helped him see. For he has apparently destroyed an evil Ring after all; and he will go down as the savior of Middle-Earth.
UPDATE: It looks like Alexander & Bissell did another spoof for The Return of the King, but not for The Two Towers.