[Spoilers!] What I would have said last night about The Battle of the Five Armies, if it hadn’t been two a.m.

I’d have gone again tonight if I could have made the 7 p.m. show. I learned last night that I can’t be staying out till 2 a.m. on a work night.

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B2QGkCHIEAAJzMP.jpg_largeThorin Oakenshield’s Caspar David Friedrich moment in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Source: @RCArmitage. I actually wanted to post that picture of Thorin having just retrieved Orcrist from the orc who was attacking him as he hangs off the side of the ice cliff but for some reason I can’t find my copy of it. And yeah, pirated stills are starting to appear but I think I will wait awhile with that.

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We’ve had discussions before about the sorts of roles that are perfect for Richard Armitage (as in the case of John Proctor), and it’s hard to escape the notion that with Thorin Oakenshield we are yet again confronted with something epic that could have been tailor-made for him. From things he’s said this time around it sounds as if this role found him — and it’s hard to imagine an actor in his professional position in 2009-10 refusing a role like it. But Armitage knows not only how to choose and accept them, but also how to play them as well.

For last night’s two watchings I was in the absolute IMAX 3D sweet spot for my vision — no blurring or motion problems when I moved my head by watching — and the feeling of being under, surrounded by, enveloped in Thorin Oakenshield’s face was overwhelming. Under the influence of Thorin. It’s interesting how the film tries to contrast the story of Thorin’s madness and redemption with the stable story of Bard’s family, but the images from the latter story are outbalanced by the former. The mad face, the twists and turns of Armitage’s features, are impossible to tear my face from.

There are couple of places where this effect seemed particularly obvious to me — for instance, in the scene where Thorin thinks Bilbo has the Arkenstone and discovers an acorn in his hand instead. The mobility of his face is astounding, from the crazed suspicion of his eyes under that built up brow, to the gentleness as he imagines, playfully, what Bilbo will do in his garden in Bag End (which recalls for us the delight on Thorin’s face when Gandalf rescued the dwarves from the stone trolls in TH: AUJ), to, in turn, the displeasure as he is interrupted by Dwalin — a displeasure that recalls the much more inherently menacing grimace of Guy of Gisborne, particular with the way his left cheek muscle wilts into a sneer. And throughout, I can’t help but respond to the way Armitage makes the gold sickness look like a wave undulating just behind Thorin’s eyebrows.

Throughout this movie, we see bits and pieces of earlier Thorins in the impressions that emerge in the first two thirds of the film. As the Durins decide to join the battle, we get an energetic Thorin the likes of which we have only glimpsed earlier in the series — the Thorin who gained the epithet, Oakenshield — who enjoys the energy of battle, of his prowess in war — in a way that one can only describe as medieval. (Upon three watchings, this seems seem to me the most consciously neo-medieval of all the films, which has something to do with all the fighting and the way that Jackson handles it.)

But that even the fighting Thorin has in turn been changed by his experience of the gold sickness becomes clear in the other scenes that simply make me want to drown in Richard Armitage’s eyes — namely the combat scenes with Azog, as over and over again, we see his eyes widen in disbelief, fatigue, the heat of combat, and simple worn-down exhaustion. It doesn’t hurt that his blue eyes are lit against that very atmospheric bluish-whitish background. Armitage makes Thorin breathe simultaneously like sex and like death, transfixed by his own respiration. His awareness of his prowess and his self-confidence increasingly mix with the desperation that motivates his battle, as he’s aware explicitly that his heir is dead and probably implicitly that Kili will be slaughtered as well.

In the end, we see emerging through Thorin’s eyes and his forehead, through his utter fatigue, the deepening, coalescing awareness that his true battle and thus the final meaning of his life will be not be as the defender of Erebor, a role to which he has devoted his life, but rather as the vanquisher of Azog. Thorin experiences a bitter triumph that he can accomplish this, even as he realizes he will pass into the annals of history as the winner of the quest and the loser of the kingdom. As Thorin lies under Azog, his face wide with struggle and then the knowledge that in order to win, he will have to lose, we see on his face the recognition that in order to pursue the goal he has always pursued, he will have to do the opposite of what he has always done. Rather than insisting and pushing, the true paradox of Armitage’s Thorin is that in the end, he will have to cede, he will have to let go.

[edited slightly for mechanics.]

~ by Servetus on December 18, 2014.

11 Responses to “[Spoilers!] What I would have said last night about The Battle of the Five Armies, if it hadn’t been two a.m.”

  1. Love your recap and the nuances you picked up. I will see it again this weekend and will keep these in mind. I have never seen a movie in IMAX 3D. How would you compare it to a regular theatre viewing? I also have issues with motion sickness with some movies. Last night I was OK, but I do have to be cautious of Jackson’s aerial shots. I did notice early in the film it took my eyes a while to adjust to the movements in the film. I find I need to sit far back in the theatre as possible, what part works for you?

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    • I’m sorry it took me so long to answer this. Have you seen it in the meantime? IMAX is just “bigger” in every regard. For me the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle of the theater, or in an IMAX dome, as close to the projector as possible.

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  2. Spoiler be damned. I haven’t seen the film yet; work has been all consuming but I’m glad to read this. One of the things I spoke with Kathy Jones about, when I met her last week at the red carpet premiere, was Richard’s powerful physicality as an actor and how he uses his body–every muscle, whether in movement or stillness–so effectively to convey his character’s emotions. I saw this live in London. And I agree with you that Thorin and Proctor were roles Armitage was meant to play.

    “Armitage makes Thorin breathe simultaneously like sex and like death, transfixed by his own respiration–his awareness of his prowess and his self-confidence increasingly mixing with the desperation that motivates his battle…” — WOW this description is as primal as it gets for a great warrior and a true compliment to Armitage’s acting. This description also got me thinking about how there’s something deeply sexual in Armitage’s core and that when he’s in touch with it, he is at his most powerful as a performer.

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  3. Thanks for this, Servetus. I saw the movie yesterday for the first time, and I’ve been hunting for something that puts my feelings about the movie into words. Beautiful.

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  4. Yes!!!! It is the “letting go” that killed me! The “winner of the quest, and the loser of the kingdom.” So powerfully stated. To cede and to let go – such a difficult thing to do, but he does it so beautifully. I had such a hard time watching this. It is painful to admit loss. It is something I’ve been experiencing all year and this was just very moving for me. Richard is the only Thorin I could ever accept. He inhabited all the emotions and movements of an introspective king – even when mad. Hard to find acceptable words to describe all he is emoting in Thorin. And yes, the core of Richard is just powerfully attractive in a deeply sexual way – it is undeniable. He brought it to many of his characters – he can’t excuse it away on the script.

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  5. I have only seen the film twice, and I agree with everything you and your readers have so eloquently stated. I think this film is like a rich tapestry and to notice every thread takes multiple viewings. The acorn scene stood out for me because Thorin seems luminously beautiful in the scene. He is literally glowing with good feelings towards Bilbo and they disappear in an instant with Dwalin’s interruption. The other one was the “letting go” moment, which I did not notice until a second viewing. You can read all the emotions in his face as he realizes what he has to do and what it will cost him. It is heartbreaking for those us us who love this character, but Thorin seems at peace with it. I am tearfully raging into my disintegrating tissue at this point in the film. Of course I knew what was coming in the abstract, but Richard makes the scene so powerfully his, it hits harder than one would expect. And the emotional aftermath of Thorin’s death lingers (at least for me) long after the film is over. The comic relief at the end only makes me angry at Bilbo for surviving when Thorin did not.

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    • Thanks for saying this — I also felt like the film too quickly left the gravity of the Durins’ deaths to wrap up its “loose ends” and set the stage for LOTR ….

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  6. […] discussed some I like before, such as the shot I called Thorin’s Caspar David Friedrich moment, or this one, when Thorin retrieves Orcrist from the body of the orc that Legolas (Orlando Bloom) […]

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