Even though the author of one of the 20th century’s most beloved pieces of literature was a devoutly Christian Catholic, whose faith animated a work that spawned a multi-billion-dollar franchise in the 21st century, the movie depicting his life seems oddly unaware of this fact.
According to Fr. Michael Ward at The Catholic Herald, the new movie “Tolkien” treats the renowned author’s Catholic faith as if it was some afterthought, a brief passing blurb in his life that played little to no role whatsoever in the books that people would forever know as “The Lord of the Rings” — so much so that the movie does not even bother to mention the fact Tolkien’s own mother was ostracized from her family when she became a Catholic after his father’s death.
“This handsome, earnest, yet overstuffed and poorly paced film deviates frequently from the historical record,” Fr. Ward said. “Most seriously, it ignores Tolkien’s devout Christian faith: there is no indication that he served Mass daily as a boy or ever even entered a Catholic church. His punch-ups with Wiseman and drunken night-time profanities are, in comparison, unimportant inventions.”
“Incidents come thick and fast, but are strangely uninvolving,” Fr. Ward continued. “Screenwriters David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford present various possible motives for Tolkien’s behaviour, but it’s unclear what animates him, and [Nicholas] Hoult’s unconvincing, un-Edwardian performance doesn’t make good the lack.”
Steven D. Greydanus at the National Catholic Register also notes that the movie omits the fact that the Virgin Mary served as inspiration for the iconic character Galadriel:
The film is interested … in Edith as an inspiration for the elf-princess Lúthien Tinúviel — a key shot of Edith dancing in the woods appears more than once — but of the Virgin Mary, an important inspiration for Galadriel, there is not so much as a Madonna statue or a snatch of a Hail Mary. (A glimpse of a life-size crucifix amid the dream imagery of the Somme sequences is the one visual nod to the sacred.)
Father Morgan has an intriguing line about the liturgy, deeming “modern words” useless when it comes to comforting the grieving, but neither liturgy nor prayer makes an onscreen appearance. There’s no hint of the Eucharist, the reality behind the elven “waybread” or lembas.
Religion is so unimportant that when Father Morgan objects to Tolkien’s romance with Edith in part on the grounds that “she isn’t even Catholic,” some viewers may not understand that it was Tolkien, not Edith, who was outside the religious mainstream of the day.
Pajama Media’s Tyler O’Neil noted that Tolkien was deeply inspired by more than just the Western literary tradition but also the very fulcrum upon which that literary tradition rests: The bible and Jesus Christ. The movie gives this passing mention if any mention at all.
While “Tolkien” does not commit the same sins as other recent works that have tried to eradicate Christianity from their subjects’ lives, it still stands in line with that increasingly trendy position. Oddly enough, Hollywood keeps insisting on doing this despite the fact that movies whitewashed of Christianity (such as “A Wrinkle in Time”) bomb in the box office.