Given the behind the scenes false starts that seemed to plague the production of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – lawsuits, studio bankruptcy, a change in directors — it's perhaps a tad ironic that beginning the story of Lord of the Rings before the story of Lord of the Rings was never a problem. No, for Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens, the power troika behind the flick, beginning an episodic, rollicking, children's adventure story cum three-film epic was the easy part. Deciding where to end, however...
How does one pinpoint a climax for a first film in a trilogy before the whole story is even a third of the way over? With what may be the turning point of J.R.R. Tolkien's entire massive legendarium, suggested Boyens.
"We understood that you had to arrive the characters at an emotional location as opposed to a geographical location. Instead of just getting them to a geographical point on the journey, it was more important for to arrive them at an emotional place so that you didn't continue to tell the same emotional story," the Oscar winning scribe told Movieline.
"It's very hard for Bilbo to be that little Hobbit who has to find his courage," she continued. "I mean, that could go on and on and on and on. [But when] the ring comes to Bilbo and in that moment he chooses not to take Gollum's life, that has enormous resonance for the entire mythology."
Occurring almost exactly 30 percent of the way through Tolkien's The Hobbit, the scene comes immediately after Bilbo finds the One Ring and puts it on for the first time in order to escape from the clutches of the treacherous Gollum, who he has just beaten in a Riddle Game. Perched before Gollum in front of an open doorway that promises freedom, Bilbo has a chance to kill the creature but chooses not to.
The scene, sometimes referred to by fans of the series as "The Pity of Bilbo," has consequences for the rest of the series in a literal sense, as it is ultimately Gollum who manages to destroy the Ring by falling with it into the lava at Mount Doom.
So resonant is the scene, in fact, that it's overtly referenced several times in Lord of the Rings. "The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many," Gandalf tells Frodo in Fellowship of the Ring.
"The pity of Bilbo rules the fate of all," echoed director Peter Jackson. "Bilbo had a chance to kill Gollum. The fact that he didn't [kill Gollum] has now created the story of Lord of the Rings, for good or for bad."
Perhaps more importantly for Boyens and Company, it represented a kind of ecclesiastical or moral totem, a crossroads from which Bilbo would never be able to return. (Gandalf believes, for example, that Bilbo was able to give up the Ring so easily because he took it in a moment of pity. "Bilbo has been well rewarded," he tells Frodo. "Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With pity.")
Using this scene as the climax of the film then necessitated moving other things forward, like when in the story Thorin learns to trust and lean on Bilbo. From the cave scene forward in the film, Bilbo takes agency in his relationship with the dwarves, deciding to actively join them on their quest and helping to save Thorin from the orcs.
"Bilbo discovers something in himself and I think that is true courage, knowing when, as Gandalf says, to spare a life," Boyens insisted. "So we couldn't just let that moment pass. And I think it would have gotten buried in the great morass of spider fights and other stuff that would have happened if [we didn't end there and] kept pushing through."
The spiritual ramifications of the scene were so important to the screenwriters that they made a small but profound change in order to underline its moral importance, explained Boyens. In the book, Bilbo simply finds the Ring, as if it was misplaced by Gollum. In the movie, "[Gollum] loses it as he's murdering someone and Bilbo receives it as he's saving something," Boyens explained. "So maybe that act – that unknown act without any knowledge of any greater consequence — is what Professor Tolkien wrote a lot about; [Goodness and grace] must be innate. It must be for its sake an act of charity, an act of kindness. That's how fate works."
Is this the right place to end The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, even though it necessitated changing the text to move other things forward? Would you have chosen this spot? Sound off in the comments below.
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