TOLKIEN Is A Wholly Moving Exercise In What It Means To Love

[REVIEW] "A masterful exercise on what it means to love and be loved - on the trials and wonders of personal relationships - and the outstanding reward of brotherhood."

J. Dalvy
Created By J. Dalvy
On Apr 30, 2019
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"Tokien" is a wholly moving exercise in what it means to love.

Firstly, I feel it necessary to state I am an undying fan of the titular author's masterworks. Typically I strive to keep reviews non-personal at best, but this film feels as if it is an exception.

To put it briefly - I came into FOX's biopic not knowing what to expect. At all. The biopic, scripted by David Gleeson & Stephen Beresford with direction by Dome Karukoski, is not endorsed by nor was it made under the guidance of the Tolkien estate. This isn't exactly where an exercise of this nature prefers to sprout beginnings, surely, but I cannot help but continue to feel moved by the sheer atmosphere of love TOLKIEN has left me with. A love that, without a doubt, is rooted within a deep respect for the titular author from all hearts involved with this project.

In turn, TOLKIEN shows how deeply humanity's love for the author is rooted outside his estate.

Much ado has been made about the surviving members of J. R. R. Tolkien's family (and estate) not backing the project, but a large portion of the exposure this issue has garnered stems from sensationalist headlines and click-baiting news outlets attempting to turn a non-issue into something that garners website views. The truth is that there was no power struggle, no legal action, and no damning - simply precautionary measures taken to publicly state the separate entities that are A.) Tolkien's estate and B.) The creative team behind this film.

The truth of the matter is, the estate did not either give nor deny their blessing - they simply weren't involved. The two don't sound that different from one another, but their official statements have been impartial, not negative, and as such shouldn't prevent any loyal fan of Tolkien's work from viewing this biopic. Because you will want to. From one Tolkienite to any other - I cannot recommend this film enough.

Hoult and Collins' chemistry is worthy of the true Beren and Luthien: Tolkien and Edith.

Initially, my hesitations were founded on the central casting of Nicholas Hoult, which was revealed far before the estate's non-involvement. In respect to the talented gentleman himself, his performance came as another pleasant surprise.

Though not quite the picture of Tolkien himself, Hoult carves a empathetic core as he delves deeply into the fellowships that formed the heart of the author's youth. Much of his depiction of young Ronald feels grim, but is very much reactionary to the incredibly taxing youth his real-life counterpart experienced. Indeed, those who knew and wrote of Tolkien in life often spoke of his warmth and joviality - his penchant to turn of phrase on a dime and his Hobbit-like love of pipe, food, hearth, and good company - but much of this side of the author's life is absent from TOLKIEN. Instead, we get to know much more about what stirred the darkness within him, and ultimately how he earned the happily ever after that saved him from it:

His Luthien. His Edith.

It is Collins' Edith and the fellow three members of the T.C.B.S. that will pull souls entirely into Tolkien's life.

Lily Collins reenacts a well known, and deeply loved memory Tolkien often spoke of: his beloved Edith dancing beneath the trees.

As a living, breathing person it is hard not to fall in love with Lily Collins in any role, but her casting as Edith Bratt was one of many masterstrokes that elevates this story, and she plays the only love of Tolkien's life with such tenacious warmth that we're left pining for her right alongside the author as they're separated.

Liberties were taken with the events of Tolkien's life, but the highlights remain intact - and as hard as their caretakers, the world, and it's War to End All Wars (WWI) conspired to keep these two apart - nothing could, and through the performances and chemistry of Collins and Hoult we are left much better for it, just as history was.

The brotherhood formed within the famed T.C.B.S of Tolkien's youth is phenomenally portrayed on film.

Though before their love took center stage, a younger Tolkien experienced love in a much different (though just as poignant) way, as his classmates at King Edward's School in Birmingham became his adoptive family - and changed him into the storyteller our own Earth cherishes so deeply.

It is this companionship - this fellowship - that forms the emotional core of TOLKIEN's proceedings, and it is what had me welling with emotion by the film's end. Each performance, from both the adolescent and adult actors, works wonders, and has you feeling every bit as much the lovingly adopted orphan and outsider that Tolkien was.

Everything works toward cementing this pack of youngsters as a strong core for a film that would've meant nothing without them - as the script, direction, score, and cinematography & editing specifically fire on all cylinders to bring this gorgeously crafted tale to life 'round the four members of the Tea Club, Barrovian Society (or T.C.B.S. for short, as its members preferred).

In this we are treated to a masterful exercise on what it means to love and be loved - on the trials and wonders of personal relationships - and the outstanding reward of brotherhood.

No film since Dead Poet's Society, a classic TOLKIEN certainly echoes in spirit, has encapsulated this so perfectly - and it is this that escalates a seeming gamble of a biopic to excellence.

It is difficult to discuss much past this without giving away the entirety of the film to those unfamiliar with the history behind it, but rest assured if you go in with a willfully open heart, you will be moved by the outcome of this journey. Fans hoping for fascinating glimpses into Tolkien's imagination will not be disappointed, either, as his visions of what would become Middle-earth are executed with subtle care - some so much so that multiple viewings may be necessary to catch their presence.

TOLKIEN is truly a wonderful experience - my favorite of the year so far - and I am grateful to FOX SEARCHLIGHT for bringing it to general audiences and Tolkienites alike. Without a doubt, we need more art like it - and I feel as if the members of the T.C.B.S. were to view it - they, too, would feel the same.

TOLKIEN hits theaters nationwide May 10th, 2019.

Directed by Dome Karukoski