Starting to process Armitage’s work as Thorin

It’s interesting to me that January 7th is the anniversary of my Armitagemania onset — and here I am, three years later, dealing with a new role. Trying to remind myself as well that I had seen North & South almost two dozen times before I started to get what it was about for me, so I’m ahead of the game on that. It’s going to be a little low tech in terms of how I start these analyses, as I won’t be referring to vid clips as I have been for the last several years now. I tend not to come to conclusions about things in chronological or sequential order, necessarily, so the things I pick up tend to be episodic or impressionistic at first. This is going to be watching sausage being made as opposed to the refined version I was able to start providing re: Mr. Thornton this summer.

At the moment, in rewatching, I tend to find myself drawn to the end of the very beginning — the destruction of Erebor. So today I’ll talk a little about one piece of the Erebor scenes that hits me hard every time, the chunk right after old Bilbo (Ian Holm) narrates, “Erebor was lost …”

First, we see Thorin staggering as he drags his grandfather out of the city.


And then we see the gates to Erebor from the perspective of the elf army led by Thranduil. At this point, Thorin screams his encouragement to the people around him to “run for [their] lives.”


There’s an intriguingly crazed abandonment here that involves terror, but also more, given Thorin’s earlier self-possession when standing in flank to his grandfather’s throne. This dwarf (there’s a neat little craning of the neck or tilting down of the head in that scene that obviously can’t be captured in a still photo):


and this one, with arms wide flung:


are the same individual — extreme ends of a personality that also includes the competence to know when a dragon is attacking and the bravery to stand at the head of a battalion of dwarves facing a dragon as the door is about to burst open. We see a lot of different facets of Thorin in these opening sequences, Armitage setting us up well for a very varied personality in later scenes.

But back to this one. As viewers, while watching Thorin urging his fellows to flee the city, we see a number of shadings of facial expressions (despite the beard covering much of his lips).

The attempt to get attention from Thranduil:


A combination of the scream of the warrior and a look of hopefulness in the eyes that someone will now come to the city’s aid:


Followed by a series of reactions to his growing awareness that Thranduil (Lee Pace) is not racing down from the heights to help him. Here a vid would really help me — the microexpressions are suddenly in play again in the eyes, with a little help from briefly wrinkled eyebrows.


We see the growing response to Thranduil’s obvious interaction developing here, still on the face of the great man, the prince who hopes that defeat can be pulled from the jaws of failure. Thorin, here, is still the man of action, the energy of a possible defense remains knit into his posture. Key in the mediation of that emotion are the upright, attentive position of the head and the visibility of the sclera all around Armitage’s pupils — indicating a greater energy, hope, adrenaline rush. I’m also always interested by the position of his nasolabial folds — their movement often also contributes to one’s perception of his character’s energy, although the beard / mustache makes them harder to see from this angle. Here, Thorin is still large.

The camera moves us back to Thranduil for a moment, and then back to Thorin, who’s now realizing that Erebor is not only lost, but with Thranduil’s hesitance, also the hope of aid. The script is eventually damningly eloquent: “No help came from the elves that day, nor any day since.”

When the camera comes back to Thorin, it’s the most intriguing series of subtle facial moments I see.

First, Thorin’s head is a bit lower, as he witnesses Thranduil’s departure.


There’s a glimmer of unbelief in his eyes, which seem to get simultaneously more piercing and more hopeless, and a thinning of the lower cheeks above the mustache, the nasolabial fold flattening.


His shoulders then begin to look thinner, less extended, his physical position more defensive. Armitage is actually making Thorin smaller here.

vlcsnap-2013-01-05-22h43m52s128This is only a second or two, yet Thorin looks more hunched over, and somewhat defeated, and we see the further extension of the lower lip …


And then, the growing presence of the sclera, seen from under the brow (in a classic Armitage glance) and mostly from their lower surfaces — the upper sclera are now totally hidden — indicating his misery. The movement of the jaw has now begun to take on the signs not of the protruding lip of sorrow but of the clench of resentment. The nasolabial fold now makes it look as if a crag is carved into his face. And the growing proximity of the camera makes the pale desperation of the face now much more important than the structure of his body and his clothing in indicating his suddenly surrendered status.

Part of what pulls me in here is not just the panoply of very subtle facial expressions, each connected seamlessly to the next, so that the emotions and meta-emotions flicker across Armitage’s face and suck me in, but also the gradual shrinking of the mighty character. He who is so young suddenly looks old, he who was so triumphant suddenly looks defeated — in only a few seconds.

~ by Servetus on January 6, 2013.

4 Responses to “Starting to process Armitage’s work as Thorin”

  1. Dear Servetus, I have been waiting for your analysis for these RA scenes as they very touching. These are one of my favourite scenes in The Hobbit besides the ending certainly; the ones I will watch over and over again when the DVD is available. So thank you very much !


  2. I didn’t know RA as an actor before seeing him on The Hobbit. This very scene simply grabbed me and I was forever lost. I think RA was magnificent in those few seconds of the movie. He said it all without doing very much (from a general point of view), only great, great acting. As PJ said, his stillness forces you to look at him, even if there are action around him. I think he’d deserve some award for his acting in The Hobbit, but I don’t think he’ll win any, not this year.
    I really enjoy your analysis of the scene, I agree with everything you say and very glad someone put in words also for me. This scene reminds me the one in N&S, the Look back at me, where he even squint eyes (if it’s the right verb) to catch the faint chance of seeing Margaret looking back to him and then lower his eyes in sorrow. He is really a great actor and deserve recognition among the best.
    Excuse my poor English, I’m Italian and tried to express feelings the best I could. Ciao and thanks for your blog and tumblr.


    • Thanks for the comment, micra, and welcome — so this was the scene that did it for you? That is really fascinating. It’s interesting that he can even be spiritually still in a scene when he’s moving. Nice point about the comparison to N&S.


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