On this episode of Finding Christ in Cinema, we get to the Black Gate of Mordor only to be caught by Faramir as we look for Christian themes in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Why does Samwise change his mind about Smeagol? Is it because Frodo is the new Christ-Figure? All that and more in 3…2…1!
Frodo as the Lamb of God
As we established in the previous episode, there won’t be just one Christ figure in this story arc (think of it as with the headline “Same Christ, Different Figures,” heh heh). So far as Michael is concerned, one notable Christ-figure in Two Towers is Frodo Baggins, and Michael gives Frodo the gravitous title of the Lamb of God. It may seems like a stretch at first, but after considering the Levitical law concerning the Scape Goat and how that law was fulfilled through Christ, the parallel becomes all the more clear.
As we watch Frodo carry the Ring across Middle-Earth to Mount Doom, we see a representation of the Scape Goat as described in Leviticus 16:20-22:
“When he has finished purifying the holy place, the Meeting Tent, and the altar, he is to present the live goat. Aaron is to lay his two hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities of the Israelites and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins, and thus he is to put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man standing ready. The goat is to bear on itself all their iniquities into an inaccessible land, so he is to send the goat away in the wilderness.“
From this, we can understand Frodo as the Christ-figure as he carries the Ring – what we can understand as Sin – out to the wilderness that is Middle-Earth and to the only place that absolve it, Mount Doom. A short and simple yet powerfully poignant point.
Samwise, Peter, and Saving the Sheep
With Frodo as one of the Christ-figures in the film, we could extend the metaphor to his faithful companion Samwise Gamgee and understand him to be like Peter. In Two Towers, among the many plot lines that the overall story arc follows, we see that of Frodo and Samwise as they have been separated from the rest of the Fellowship. As they are making their rounds, they come across Smeagol. After a following altercation in which Frodo and Samwise prove the better, Smeagol agrees to serve as the two Hobbits’ guide and take them to the Black Gate of Mordor (after all, he’s been there before and knows the way). As the trio moves ahead, though, Samwise begins to antagonize Smeagol by calling him names and making fun of him. Frodo sees this and then rebukes Samwise for such behavior.
This rebuking is similar to Jesus’s own rebuking of Peter throughout the Gospel narrative. Anytime Peter overzealously steps out of bounds, Jesus hurries to bring him back in. Whether it’s when Peter lashes out at Jesus after the latter reveals his impending doom or when Peter lops off a Roman guard’s ear, Jesus is quick to reprimand Peter for his behavior. Frodo’s rebuking is similar to Jesus’s rebuking on a deeper level as well: just as Jesus could empathize with everyone Peter alienated, so could Frodo empathize with Smeagol whom Samwise alienated. Just as Jesus shared in the burden of Sin (although He didn’t sin) with everyone around him, Frodo so shared in the burden of the Ring with Smeagol. And just as Jesus believes that everyone sharing in this burden of Sin is worth saving, Frodo believed that Smeagol was also worth saving.
Ultimately, as Frodo rebukes Samwise in his antagonizing of Smeagol, we begin to see a change in how Samwise operates; this transformation comes to a head just after Samwise saves Frodo from the Ringwraith at the Battle of Helm’s Deep. As Samwise delivers one of the best cinematic monologues ever, we begin to understand that he, too, now sees the world (and even Smeagol) as worth saving.
Keep this in mind while reading the following passage from John 21, and pay attention to the types of “love” used within this dialogue:
Then when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agape) me more than these do?” He replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love (phileo) you.” Jesus told him, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus said a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agape) me?” He replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love (phileo) you.” Jesus told him, “Shepherd my sheep.” Jesus said a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love (phileo) me?” Peter was distressed that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” and said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love (phileo) you.” Jesus replied, “Feed my sheep.”
A topical understanding of the different types of “love” used here is required. Jesus’s love agape (ah-GAH-pey) is best understood as the loyal, committed, and self-sacrificial love (you know, the kind he demonstrated for us on the cross). Peter’s love phileo (fi-LEY-oh) is more like a brotherly bond between friends. Obviously, the latter is the lesser of the two. (Insert plug for C.S. Lewis’s book The Four Loves here.)
Jesus asks for Peter’s agape love, but Peter can only offer a brotherly love; then the process is repeated for a second time. But then Jesus, being able to empathize with Peter, meets Peter halfway by asking him for the love that he is most comfortable with giving. This “distresses” Peter, that Jesus would once again stoop to his level, but because Jesus got on his level, Peter has no other option but to accept Jesus’s challenge to feed His sheep. Think about this whenever you meet someone that’s being “difficult;” you may just need to get on their level and meet them halfway.
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Finding Christ In Cinema is the show where we discover Christian themes in movies past and present. Join us and together we’ll dig deeper into the silver-screen classics of yesteryear as well as the box-office hits of today. Brought to you by the Great Commission Transmission Network. View the complete show notes, including links to articles discussed, by clicking here.
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