The Ethics of Fellowship in Two Antipodean War Films: Gallipoli (1981) and The Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002, 2003)

by Ian Henderson

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Correspondences between Peter Weir’s Gallipoli (1981) and Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002, 2003) may not be obvious until you place both in the category ‘Antipodean war film’.1 But I hope further similarities between these films, masterpieces in the oeuvre of their respective directors, will become apparent as this article proceeds. For I believe The Lord of the Rings, couched in the ‘f’ word Jackson slipped through the Oscars telecast delay—fantasy—has finally and decisively made Gallipoli legible on its own terms. Reading Gallipoli as fantasy, moreover, exposes the pro-war message of Weir’s film; perhaps also an unexpected outcome given the emotions unleashed by Archy’s sacrifice at Anzac Cove. Owing to the historic and (alas) contemporary relevance of this message, the sustained popularity of both films, their exceptionally positive critical receptions, the ubiquity of Gallipoli on courses of Australian Studies and/or Australian Film, and the inevitable appearance of The Lord of the Rings on school and university curricula, the time is more than ripe for an analysis of both in terms of their shared narrative aesthetic, that is, as male adventure romances. Through such an analysis, moreover, we gain conversely-related insights into each film: that Gallipoli, national icon, is informed by a Western—that is, by an inter national—generic structure; and conversely, that The Lord of the Rings, global megaproduct, can take part in the discourse of New Zealand nationalism.

The analysis is enabled by the work of Bilbo Baggins himself, eponymous hero of Tolkien’s prequel The Hobbit (1937) and uncle to Frodo, hero of The Lord of the Rings. Bilbo is portrayed writing the account of his own adventures in an early scene of Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring, his manuscript titled ‘There and Back Again’. ‘There and back again’ precisely denotes the determining structure of the male adventure romance as a genre. In it falls not only Bilbo’s book, but also The Lord of the Rings itself, and, as I contend, Gallipoli. Male protagonists forego their normal lives, entering into queer relationships in the field of death—they go ‘there’—before being either restored to heterosexual domesticity—’and back again’—or sublimed into the realm of myth (beyond even ‘there’).

To begin at the end, with the ‘back again’ sector, let me contrast the conclusions of Weir’s and Jackson’s films. Gallipoli ‘s high-impact ending is one of its most remarkable features, still, two decades since its first release, stunning audiences long into the credits. A protagonist’s death is hardly unpredictable in a war movie, but the fact that the narrative also ends at the moment of Archy’s death (Mark Lee) is shocking and almost unique. There is no explicit come-down from this death, no solemn account of news being borne home (the emotional hook for Saving Private Ryan, for example), no dwelling on Frank’s grief (Mel Gibson), or for that matter Frank’s fate. There seems to be no ‘back again’ whatsoever.

What a contrast to the finale of The Return of the King ! At the 2004 Oscars, host Billy Crystal quipped the film had eleven nominations, one for every ending. We see Sam and Frodo, their quest attained, isolated on a rock in a sea of lava, facing death, speaking their final words of love and devotion to one another. The screen blacks out for several seconds, as if here is truly the end. And yet the screen re-lights and the film continues; in fact there is half an hour to go. A flock of giant eagles bears the Hobbits away in a ravishingly beautiful scene. Then follows, by Frodo’s Rivendell sick-bed, the sentimental reunion of the surviving members of the fellowship, the return to the Shire, Sam’s courting and wedding of his sweetheart Rosy, Frodo’s writing of his memoirs where Bilbo’s end, the revelation of his continued trauma, and his unexpected departure to the Gray Havens. Sam is charged with continuing the book of Bilbo and Frodo and finally the trilogy ends with Sam, Rosy, and their children outside the family burrow.

One answer to critics of Return ‘s many endings is faithfulness to J.R.R. Tolkien’s own extended conclusion. But emerging from the Leicester Square Odeon I found myself squeezed against two die-hard Tolkien fans. The one wearing a cape made an excellent point: ‘Five fucking endings and no scourging of The Shire!’. Exactly. Although Jackson’s has been an exemplary film-adaptation, faithful in spirit and in much detail to the original books while remaining true to the very different demands of the new medium, a key aspect of Tolkien’s conclusion is overlooked: the attack on the Shire by Saruman’s troops.2 Frodo, and his hobbit confreres Sam, Merry, and Pippin, return to a landscape of destruction, not the happy, untouched province of Jackson’s film. Why so?

For this bear in mind how easily Tolkien’s trilogy can be read as an allegory of World War II, despite the fact that in his preface Tolkien emphatically declared the story ‘neither allegorical nor topical’. This statement, however, springs from the author’s disdain for the perceived totalitarianism of one-to-one symbolic correspondence. He went on to write that he enjoyed ‘history, true or feigned’ for ‘its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers’ (emphasis added). Now the first volume of The Fellowship of the Ring was first published in 1954, with Britain just recovering from the damage and deprivation of the Second World War, a war very much in the ‘thought and experience’ of those first readers. The production of the book, moreover, had been contextualised by not one but two World Wars: Tolkien began the background history of Middle Earth during the First, some of it even scribbled in the trenches, and he started writing The Lord of the Rings proper in 1942, the very depths of the Second. The resultant volumes could hardly help emerging as (at least obliquely) allegorical, and certainly topical when they were first read.

In turn the reception of Jackson’s film by a new generation with a very different set of thoughts and experiences provokes both a qualifying glance backwards at the original trilogy’s World War II ‘applicability’ and a ‘sideways’ glance at the present-day ‘war on terror’: together these applications figure a national role for New Zealand in the new global conflict. Glancing backwards, that is, Jackson’s altered conclusion can refer to the peculiar experience of New Zealand troops in the ‘back again’ sector of their World War II adventures. Unlike English (or worse still, Continental) troops, who were repatriated to a wasted and broken landscape in 1945, New Zealand soldiers returned to an unaffected and provincial backwater, the idea of which had sustained them throughout their ordeal; at least that is how the film applies it. A serene vision of post-war New Zealand—similar to that in the newsreel which commences Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (1994)—therefore enhances the symbolic function of the Shire in the film as an unchanging, unnoticed, and unworldly province, marginalized, certainly, from more spectacular human halls, and affording no courtly refinement, but symbolising ultimately the heart of civilisation at peace, the core family values that must be defended in war. (Ultimately this is quite the opposite national construction of Jackson’s earlier, non-Hollywood film.)

The Sydney Morning Herald notoriously extrapolated the coupling of Shire and New Zealand to claim New Zealand extras acting in Bilbo’s birthday scene were simply asked to come on set dressed for a wedding. But correspondences between veteran Hobbits and modern Kiwis have a serious side. Hobbits embody important smallness as they enter far more politically powerful arenas during their travels. In fact their seeming insignificance is their greatest asset: witness Frodo’s success as compromise candidate for ring-bearer at Elrond’s council, Sam’s winning over the Faramir to their cause at the blasted river-city of Osgiliath, and, of course, it is both Hobbits’ smallness that enables them to slip through dark-lord Sauron’s grand defences and destroy the ring.3 On the whole the message that from small counties—and provincial artists—great things come seemed proven by New Zealand’s production of a—perhaps the —masterpiece of early 21 st -century globalised culture. But more ominously that American-funded blockbuster affirmed a symbolically potent—economically slavish? politically enfeebling?—role for ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ in the present-day wars of the ‘Men of the West’ (the term used for his compatriots by returned King Aragorn): as the ultimate landscape of Western peace. Celtic-ish Christianity-compatible cosmography and not a Koran in sight.

To Shire up New Zealand in this manner, moreover—to speak, indeed, of ‘100% purity’ at all—is a terra nullius gesture of Australian proportions. Granted in The Lord of the Rings we should read the Shire’s peace as historically inscribed with the first defeat of Sauron—not a blank slate but the product of an ancient war—yet that would place the Maori people of New Zealand (applicability-wise) on the side of the Orcs. It is a structural element that resonates uncomfortably throughout Jackson’s film—in the swarthy skin and war-chants of the evil human Haradrim, for example, riding their Oliphaunts in the battle against the good guys outside Minas Tirith—one I do not have space to pursue here. Let me simply underscore the significance in globalised national terms of Jackson’s departure from Tolkien in his endings, and say what I should have said to the disgruntled fan: The Return of the King ends perfectly with Sam and Frodo on the rock. The last half hour is a coda not for this instalment but for the trilogy as a whole: when all three films are watched together the ending makes perfect aesthetic sense.

For the coda is all about the journey ‘back again’. This is constituted by Sam’s re-entry into the heterosexual cycle of life and death and Frodo’s sublimation to the realm of myth and legend. Jackson, indeed, has my eternal thanks for providing such a spectacular illustration of why we use the same word—romance—to describe quest narratives for knights (traditionally aimed at male readers) and accounts of falling in love (popularly aimed at women): both are about self-less devotion to another human being and the trials this gives rise to; both are erotic, their appeal energised by a deferred conjunction; and thus both are ideally populated by long, loving gazes between protagonists.4

Perhaps that is why one reviewer of Frodo’s and Sam’s relationship longed to shout ‘Just kiss him already’.5 The same might be exclaimed at Gallipoli ‘s Frank and Archy. But in both cases the cat-call infers a grossly reductive reading of the relationship. Its queerness lies not in ineptly handled repressed desire—as some who attacked the film in the 1980s would have it—but in the very notion—an elusive one—of a passion between men which is neither necessarily sexual nor necessarily sex-free.6 Bear in mind Kosofsky Sedgwick’s theorisation of a continuum of same-sex relations falls between ourselves and the first release of Gallipoli, but then again early detractors might have noted how carefully screenwriter David Williamson picked his words in 1981.7 He said he had portrayed ‘a non-ocker mateship or friendship. The two boys do care about each other’.8 Given Frank’s and Archy’s present-day status as quintessential ‘mates’, it is ironic that Williamson wanted to distinguish their relationship from popular understanding of mateship, an understanding his earlier plays had popularised. When it came to the crunch, Williamson claimed, ockers did not care about anyone other than themselves. Some critics heeded the distinction but were equally pressed for descriptors. In his 1990 biography of Williamson Brian Kiernan observed ‘Frank…becomes [Archy’s] admiring friend, rather than just a “mate”’.9 Sam Rohdie, writing in 1982, was probably the most accurate in dubbing them simply a ‘romantic pair’.10

There is another useful word for their relationship, long extant but now prominently under our noses: fellowship. As Elizabeth McMahon has suggested to me, fellowship might be plotted somewhere along that section of Kosofsky Sedgwick’s continuum which provokes the greatest unease, where any fixed sexual identity is bamboozled by indefinite and/or variable behaviour over time: fellowship is thus understood here as a unique way of one man relating to another for which sex acts are beside the point and which emerges, according to the male adventure romance, in moments of war. Fellowship denotes an imprecise, non-substantiating way of relating, provisional in that it is conditioned by the adventure, and variable over time: it is fundamentally queer.

So to see it, we must see it in action: the illuminating model is the set of actions that constitute Samwise Gamgee’s devotion to Frodo during the ‘there’ segment of Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. These develop along the lines of pre-modern fealty to one’s lord: Frodo, young Hobbit gentleman—possessor, that is, of the much-sought-after property of Bag End—becomes the film’s knight in tiny armour; Sam, a Hobbit gardener with a provincial accent, becomes Frodo’s faithful liege, contrasting the creature Gollum’s abject enslavement to his master via the ring with the dignity of true love.11 Again given their status as über -mates, it is eerie how neatly Archy and Frank come to fit these class-based roles: Archy the pastoralist’s son, winning hands-down over genteel dinner at a passing station, Frank the cocky but déclassé offspring of a bitter, working-class Irishman. Does Anzac really level such coves?

Unlike Jackson, who feeds the ambiguity of Frodo’s and Sam’s fellowship throughout the ‘there’ section of his film, Williamson and Weir provide scenes supposedly securing Archy’s and Frank’s heterosexual subjectivity. They are shown competing over a young lady at the aforementioned station (Frank forcefully, Archy gently), they dance with nurses in Egypt, and Frank visits a brothel. And yet the queerness of the fellowship still erupts into the film, not least through the rapport Gibson and Lee manage to convey. And at one point the couple carve their names like lovers at the peak of a pyramid, but then, in silhouette against the setting sun, the screenplay seals it not with a kiss, or even an arm around the shoulder (like Sam and Frodo as discussed below), but a firm handshake: just making it clear.

Williamson and Weir were evidently less inclined than Jackson to challenge their audience on such a front, and I imagine they understood that audience to be more conservative than Jackson his, anyway. Whatever the case, The Lord of the Rings shows us a richness of meaning Williamson and Weir were prepared to forego. And they did so probably because policing their couple’s heterosexuality while ‘there’ seemed the best way to enable them go to town describing the passion of the relationship. It had to be a passionate attachment to make possible the character development in Frank that I am interested in tracing: his incorporation of an ethics of fellowship.

Again Jackson’s film is enabling here, specifically the trilogy’s key scene at the climax to the second instalment, The Two Towers. We are among the ruins of Osgiliath, outer defence of the principal human stronghold of Minas Tirith, which has come under attack by Sauron’s forces. Faramir arrives having captured Frodo and Sam and failed to understand the import of their quest. Suddenly a Nazgûl attacks.12 Frodo runs up an escarpment to confront it, and moves to place the ring on his finger. Doing so would make Frodo master of the Nazgûl but in giving him such power the ring would also turn Frodo to the dark side; it works via the bearer’s inherent evil. So before Frodo can get the ring on his finger Sam runs up and knocks him down. They tumble down the stairway. Faramir fires an arrow that strikes and repels the Nazgûl. Frodo turns on Sam, sword poised to strike him; the shot is from Sam’s perspective, looking up at an unrecognisably hostile hero:

Sam: It’s me! It’s your Sam! Don’t you know your Sam?

Frodo falls back, letting his sword fall

Frodo: I can’t do this Sam.

Sam: [ whispers ] I know. [ Speaking up ] It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here, but we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? [ Sam’s speech continues over images of the triumphs at Helm’s Deep and Saruman’s tower; music swells ] How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. I mean day will come. And when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turnin’ back only they didn’t. They kept goin’ because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding onto Sam?

Gollum looks up, almost hopeful. Sam picks up Frodo holding his hands.

Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.

Gollum looks downcast. Faramir, having witnessed this whole scene, approaches.

Faramir: I think at last we understand one another Frodo Baggins.13

Sam’s speech is a lecture in Hobbit Literature 101. He alludes to a genre—’great stories, Mr Frodo, the ones that really mattered’—and he identifies their determining feature: ‘Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turnin’ back only they didn’t. They kept goin’ because they were holding on to something’. The key tutorial question is Frodo’s: ‘What are we holding onto Sam?’ And the significance of the response lies in the fact that Sam gives two answers at once: he moves to hold onto Frodo (‘each other’) and he says : ‘That there’s some good in this world, Mr Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for’. In the greatest moments of threat to individual safety, the good in this world is concentrated into one male holding another; into fellowship, a queer relationship in the field of death.

As Sam acts and speaks, Frodo needs reminding. He has just experienced the crisis of self-recognition that Robert Dixon has so accurately identified as a key turning point in the male adventure romance, the moment when the hero is shocked to see himself become his enemy.14 Facing off the Nazgûl, Frodo finds himself so ‘un-Frodo’ that he does not know his Sam. The distorted upwards shot of Frodo from Sam’s perspective, weapon poised and expressing hitherto unseen hatred, is the climax of this crisis of subjectivity, alleviated only by a wider shot and the clang of our hero’s falling sword. The incident immediately engenders Sam’s summation of the ethics of fellowship here at the very heart of the film.

Sam’s discourse, I add in passing, is in Hobbit Oral Literature. For he mentions stories that ‘matter ed ‘, that is, in the past of his childhood. The film’s model for such are the enthralling tales we see Bilbo telling Hobbit children at his birthday party in The Fellowship of the Ring. Now Martin Ball demonstrates that Jackson’s film has nothing like the emphasis on oral storytelling as Tolkien’s trilogy: Ball sees Jackson’s excision of so many songs and poems as a fundamental disruption to the original text.15 Yet while visual storytelling seems so to overwhelm all others in the film, it is important to note Sam’s reference to the oral tradition at what—for me—is the very heart of Jackson’s adaptation. Moreover, the relationship Sam describes in his reference fuels the stories Tolkien cherished. Fellowship, and the patriarchal bloodlines fellowship sustains, is the very lifeblood of Beowulf, for example: men remaining faithful, holding onto one another, in the face of fear itself.16

Indeed Sam’s and Frodo’s corporeal embrace forms a ring of a different sort, the avatar of good, the exact opposite of the ring of evil. The tormented creature Gollum once murdered his brother for the ring; Sam will confront the ring with brotherhood itself. Or rather a non-blood brotherhood infused with a passion comparable only to procreative attraction.17 Fellowship is given as equally fundamental to existence because what Sam forms with Frodo is the last port-of-call for Hobbitity (and humanity) in the crisis of war, the only good worth fighting for, because the only good that survives the fight. All other aspects of civilised behaviour can and will be whittled away—we see admirable characters become decisive rather than considerate, war-hungry, strategically ruthless, aggressive, even blood-thirsty—but the ethics and values of peacetime will supposedly not be endangered—darkness will inevitably pass (‘day will come’)—as long as fellowship between two men is not forsaken.

The climax of this fellowship occurs, then, when death does indeed seem inevitable. On the isolated rock of Mount Doom, Frodo declares to Sam there is no-one with whom he would rather die, and weeping, the couple hold each other in such a way that yet again their arms form the ring of fellowship. Only a wily viewer will spot this is not in fact the end, not because she sees there are 30 minutes still on the clock, not because he has read the book, but because, for the first time since leaving the Shire, Sam raises Rosy in conversation. The allusion alerts us that the moment is a bridge to a coda, and not the approach to the closing credits. (Think, for a moment though, as Jackson does with his blacked-out screen, what a stunning finale, as stunning asGallipoli ‘s, if it all had ended there!) A bridge, indeed, for such fellowship is the stuff of war and in peace-time it must be put away, the one romance replaced by its other. Climaxing with Frodo, ‘there’ on the rock, Sam is next carefully and emphatically placed back into heterosexual circulation: ‘back again’ with Rosy and the kids.

Frodo, however, will continue the trajectory begun when, like Ganymede, he is borne aloft by an eagle. He will write his own memoir in continuation of his Uncle Bilbo’s tale and then hand the tome for completion to Sam. Unfortunately the story will become quite boring from then on, little more than a family tree: vitality itself in lived experience but hardly an inspiring read. In contrast Frodo’s adventures—recorded by one incapable of entering the heterosexual cycle—will reproduce numerous Frodos in other people’s children.18

Another uncle infuses his nephew with heroic tales in Gallipoli. In a rather beautiful scene, Archy walks in on Uncle Jack reading Kipling to his younger brothers and sisters and pauses. He pauses because he sees a repeat performance of the moment of potential transfer between romantic male types, one in which he has himself participated: male-romance author to male-romance reader; uncle to nephew. Jack is the figure who has invoked a desire for ‘something more’ in Archy, against the wishes of his biological parents, who has sent the young man down the track, set him looking out at the horizon, and (unwittingly) impelled him to war. (Kipling is the arch colonialist writer who sent so many readers down the same road.) The pause over this vision of transfer indicates how, like The Lord of the Rings, Gallipoli is more than simply a hero’s quest: it describes a developing, provisional relationship between males. Indeed the opening scenes establish Archy as focal point of audience feeling principally to enable us to feel what Frank will eventually feel about him.

Frank is hardly morally admirable when introduced, no matter how sexually attractive. With habits directed towards immediate gratification, his nihilistic values will be symbolised by the panoramic shots of a salt-pan which Frank and Archy walk over on their way to join up. It is also on the salt-pan they meet a camel driver who has not even heard of the war. When confronted with the possibility of Germans invading and taking over of Australia, he offers the immortal line, ‘they can bloody have it’. He is thus a vision of Frank as an old man, had he not met Archy. For it is also in the physical crisis of the salt-pan—in the absurd face of death—that fellowship between Archy and Frank is forged. So if Frank vociferously disagrees with Archy’s talk of empire, duty, and adventure, he finds he likes the man. In other words Frank may not yet think there is a good worth fighting for, but he is holding on to Archy.

Frank’s decision to try and join up himself needs also to be unpicked as a mix of the old—joining up gets you laid—and the new: he unexpectedly suffers for his isolation from his mates, they matter more, probably because Archy now numbers among them. His new passion is confirmed when he throws the others over—Barney, Billy and Snowy—to join Archy in the Light Horse. For Amada Lohrey, writing in 1981, the gesture symbolised how ‘the original egalitarian components of the [ANZAC] Legend’ were ‘subverted’ in the film ‘by a strain of national chauvinism’.19 Frank’s mates also respond negatively to a move that sacrifices the group dynamic to a single relationship. That they get over it is neither necessarily out of character nor a sleight of hand on Weir’s and Williamson’s part: the point is the concentration of relationship necessary to the male adventure romance. In The Lord of the Rings Sam and Frodo are similarly isolated by the end of the first instalment.

Although decisively linked to Archy. Frank still acts opportunistically, involved, for example, in the black market at the front. That Archy continues to see Frank as looking out for number one right up to the end is evident at the key moment of misunderstanding between the men, one that rivals similar crises in that other kind of romance. The moment is constituted by a misunderstood gaze: Frank looks at Archy but Archy misunderstands Frank’s meaning. It therefore makes heavy demands on the audience: they are to see but not repeat Archy’s mistake.

The look occurs after the first-wave attack on Lone Pine, in which Barney, Billy, and Snowy take part, while Frank and Archy sit and listen to the gunfire together at sunset: they are facing a similar assault on the coming day. Frank then meets Billy back from the trenches and learns how the troops were ruthlessly cut down as they went over the top. Barney has been killed instantly and Snowy badly injured. Frank subsequently visits Snowy in the medical tent. Even simple-minded Snowy can see he is not going to survive, and hands Frank a diary for his mother. After this harrowing encounter Frank is seen looking out at the horizon, his face turned away from Archy. Archy tries to reassure him with the remark that ‘No Turk in his right mind is going to waste a bullet on you’, an attempt at laconic humour that falls flat: Frank turns and looks at Archy. The shot cuts to Archy momentarily but returns quickly to the close-up of Frank’s face (Gibson ably demonstrates his talent in this scene).

Now it is hardly surprising that Archy should interpret the look as fear. We know the substance of his interpretation because of a subsequent exchange between Archy and Major Barton. Archy has finally been recognised as an underage champion sprinter and is offered the position of runner, an opportunity to avoid going over the top. Instead he persuades the Major to appoint Frank, explicitly on the grounds that Frank is ‘scared’. But Archy has mis interpreted the motivation behind Frank’s fearful gaze: it is not for his own safety he fears for but Archy’s. More precisely he fears seeing Archy in Snowy’s place on the morrow: Snowy’s blond hair and simple-minded Christianity render him an uncanny version of Frank’s principal friend. Frank’s look thus marks the start of his conscious recognition of the implications of his fear: (i) that he is indeed hanging on to one fellow in particular, over and above his ‘mates’ and his self; and (ii) that his ethics of nihilistic opportunism therefore no longer hold.

Despite this revelation, Frank’s ethical journey is yet to be fully realised at the final freeze-frame: he has offered no demonstrative expression of love for his fellow as Sam has at Osgiliath and on the rock of Mount Doom. Moreover, unlike The Lord of the Rings, the journey ‘back again’ is abandoned altogether by Gallipoli. Or so it would seem. For actually what the plotline drops is taken up in the film’s affect. It is precisely because the audience has witnessed the development of Archy’s and Frank’s fellowship that on Archy’s death—at the very moment the film concludes—we can feel ‘for’ Frank in two ways. Firstly, what we feel as the credits roll is understood as Frank’s immediate feeling about the sacrifice of Archy. It is then presented as proof that there is ‘some good in the world’: you can feel it in your bones, in your very grief for a character so impossibly good, so undeserving, to die. Secondly, we feel ‘for’ Frank—we feel sorry for him—as chief mourner of Archy’s death: for as the horrific absurdities of war escalate—exemplified by the incompetent directives of a British officer—and Archy’s and Frank’s fellowship intensifies, we deposit the core good of humanity between these (Australian) men. Feeling for Frank in both senses, the audience leaves the film embodying the word of Sam Gamgee: there is some good in the world, and it is worth fighting for. When the audience’s emotions complete Frank’s ethical journey in this way, we need not see but can presume the character himself returns to Australia to re-enter heterosexual circulation. Archy, meanwhile, has taken the ship to the Gray Havens, become the stuff of legend whispering to our children.

The source of Gallipoli ‘s ideological potency is this somatic affect, and can be resisted only with an interrogation of it that bears out the feeling nonetheless. In contrast articles critical ofGallipoli in the 1980s began by standing outside the cinema and pinpointing the historical inaccuracies of the show. The Dobrezes put it neatly when discussing Archy’s laughing Aboriginal mate, Zac, the one who anoints his feet with gum leaves and helps him win a race:

[N]o one could possibly believe that the spirit which carried the Anzacs to Gallipoli to fight for the cause of Empire is a spirit favourable to the Australian Aborigine….Let us state the objective truth: the spirit of Anzac, that is to say the spirit which took Australians half way round the globe to fight under an imperial flag, is the same spirit which, in their own country, fed black people flour laced with strychnine.20

Yet scholarly vehemence, even thus laced with strychnine, cannot counteract the power of film: momentarily, watching Gallipoli, everyone believes ‘the spirit of Anzac’ was a ‘spirit favourable to the Australian Aborigine’. My issue, then, with the line of resistance that pursues historical inaccuracies, is not that those inaccuracies do not exist—they do—or that such sleights of hand are not ideologically reprehensible; they are. It is the fact that the experience of viewing the film is removed from the site of dispute.

For the emotions unleashed by the film’s generic conventions are more potent and pervasive than the particularities of its use of history: they are the message. And the message is that the sacrifice of Archy—the good worth fighting for that we feel for Frank—authorises Australians to forge their own ethical line, and right to judge when it had been overstepped such that action must be taken. It is a nationalist message aimed squarely at the political and historical context of the film’s production rather than setting. In fact the ethic of fellowship, the one you feel for Frank, will admit any number of nationalist causes. For such causes, in certain circumstances, the ethic allows Australians to go to war, and assures us a return to normality afterwards (‘day will come’). Thanks to Zac it also says Indigenous people must be brought along with the cause (included in the nation’s army, that is, not acknowledged as a resistant force against it). But there is one position the ethic of fellowship will not admit: an uncategorical, absolute opposition to war. And that is why we need to think carefully about how we introduce and frame such films in educational settings. We need to teach how simultaneously to experience—enjoy— and interrogate the emotions viewing such films produce.

Hence the method of analysis pursued here takes up the performance paradigm of queer theory, bringing the ongoing processes of textual consumption—the diachronology of watching film—into the field of inquiry. And that means the viewing subject must be incorporated, not as passive absorber nor complete director of meaning, but as harbourer of a momentary convergence between filmic and subjective texts. In other words the convergence of viewer and film creates a film-self ‘machine’ in the Deleuzian sense, a machine of component parts, neither solely non-organic film nor solely organic viewer but partially both, a viewing/machine. In the case of Gallipoli and The Lord of the Rings one can find that convergence modelled precisely on the variable, indefinite, provisional relationship—on the fellowship—that these particular films dramatise. We are provisionally to invest the film-self machine with all that is good in man: and go into battle for it. One wonders just how many soldiers are produced by such unwittingly entered into convergences each year. But learning thus to use one’s wits in the convergence, to understand and characterise the machine while participating in its formation, enables a bountiful production of meaning, an aesthetic appreciation of that meaning’s production, and a resistance through knowing production of a still-acknowledged feeling.

The approach to such complex resistance is through simple questions of dramatic motivation. Why does Archy pause when he sees his uncle? Why does Frank look at Archy in that way outside Snowy’s tent? These resemble a means of interpretation that Williamson himself is at pains to propagate, placing yourself ‘in the role of an imaginative director’.21 At a Sydney University lecture filmed for a 1984 documentary he commented: ‘A lot of our film-makers see film in terms of one visual image after another. And you plaintively cry, but what about characterisation, what about drama, what about plot logic?’22 I am inclined to agree that ‘characterisation’, ‘drama’, and ‘plot logic’ must not be overlooked as ‘basics’ of film-making, and therefore also film interpretation. They encourage students to enter into the time-scale and assumptions of the film’s narrative world. But the trick is not to halt the interpretation of character motivation at the point of reconstituting that of the screen-playwright and/or director. Instead we move onto the viewer’s (and the viewing’s) implication in interpretive conjecture, use that conjecture principally to discover a concept which is then centred to theorise what the film is ‘about’. This is the procreative function of the film-viewer machine.

In this case answering the second of my questions in the light of The Lord of the Rings has produced a Gallipoli about the ethics of (queer) fellowship in war. But a by-product of the me-film machine—of my reading—is the construction of Gallipoli ‘s artist-creator as one who would control rather than unleash the interpretative product, who figures the collaborative procreation of aesthetic meaning only as a phallic power struggle. Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings offers embraces, loving gazes, and a freer, queer, hand as it invites the viewer to enter into its war-justifying fellowship: Williamson’s and Weir’s Gallipoli asserts greater control over the relationship to secure confidence that the film’s blokes—Frank, Archy, and we viewing blokes—are good (and) heterosexuals at heart. Not Hobbits, stupid, Australians.

Dr Ian Henderson is a lecturer in Australian literature and film at the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, King’s College London, and a Visiting Research Fellow of the Institute of English Studies, University of London. He is presently on leave from Griffith University in Brisbane.


1. Peter Weir, Dir., Gallipoli, Paramount Pictures, 1981; Peter Jackson, Dir., The Lord of the Rings, New Line Cinema, 2001, 2002, 2003. Jackson’s trilogy is read here as a single text composed of the original cinema release ‘cuts’ for each film: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. My thanks to the refereeing readers at Australian Humanities Review for their assistance with this article.

2. In this adaptation Jackson was assisted by fellow screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Stephen Sinclair. Discussing Jackson’s adaptation, Martin Ball laments the loss of Tolkien’s emphasis on the complex practices of oral cultures, as discussed in more detail below. Martin Ball, ‘Cultural Values and Cultural Death in The Lord of the Rings ‘, Australian Humanities Review (January 2003). Saruman is a great wizard corrupted by the evil forces assaulting the world of Tolkien’s trilogy.

3. Sauron is the original maker of the ring of power, a figure once-thought destroyed but in The Lord of the Rings returned as an evil force manifest in the form of a giant eye, spreading its evil over the world, seeking out the lost ring to complete its supremacy; Elrond is the Elf-King who hosts the council of allies at Rivendell where the fellowship to destroy the ring of power is formed; Faramir is the younger son of the paranoid steward of Minas Tirith, the most magnificent human city in Middle Earth, whose true King—Aragorn—is restored at the end of the trilogy; Osgiliath is a nearby river-city, an outer defence of Minas Tirith.

4. Fiona Giles articulated the gendering of romance in 1988 with equal success, a smaller budget, but a more specialised renown. Fiona Giles, ‘Romance: an embarrassing subject’ in Laurie Hergenhan, ed., The Penguin New Literary History of Australia (Melbourne: Penguin, 1988), pp.223-37. The classic study of the subject, referred to by Giles, is Gillian Beer, The Romance (London: Methuen, 1970).

5. Steven Rea, ‘ “Ring” of Truth’, Philadelphia Inquirer, 16 December 2003

6. ‘Actually [Archy’s] relationship with Frank is not without sexual overtones, and, to a degree, Weir and Williamson are probably aware of it. But as usual, the material escapes their control’. Livio and Pat Dobrez, ‘Old Myths and New Delusions: Peter Weir’s Australia’, Kunapipi, 4.2 (1982), p.73. ‘[T]he film has no real faith in the old Anzac myth of mateship as such—it takes over the Max Harris view of mateship as substitute sexual bonding’. Amanda Lohrey, ‘Gallipoli: Male Innocence as a Marketable Commodity’, Island 9/10 (March 1982), p.33.

7. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English literature and male homosocial desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985).

8. Murdoch University, 27 October 1981, published in Counterpoint (1981, pp.10-15) and republished in Ortun Zuber-Skerritt, ed., David Williamson, Austalian Playwrights Monograph Series No.4 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1985), p.41.

9. Brian Kiernan, David Williamson: A Writer’s Career (Melbourne: Heinemann, 1990), p. 294.

10. Sam Rohdie, ‘ Gallipoli, Peter Weir and Australian Art Cinema’, in Arena (1982), rpt Albert Moran and Tom O’Regan, eds, An Australian Film Reader (Sydney: Currency, 1985), p.195.

11. Gollum is the degenerated form of a Hobbit called Smeagle, consumed over many years by his addiction to the ring of power. Smeagle originally murdered his brother for possession of the ring after he found it in the lake where it had lain for aeons. Gollum’s later loss of the ring and Bilbo’s finding of it is recounted in The Hobbit. Bilbo gifts the ring to his nephew Frodo in the first instalment of Tolkien’s trilogy. As holder of the ring Frodo becomes Gollum’s hated master.

12. A Nazgûl is a flying dragon-like creature ridden by an undead evil king.

13. My transcription from chapter 50 of the original-release cut DVD, The Two Towers.

14. I am generally in debt to Dixon’s book. Robert Dixon, Writing the Colonial Adventure: gender, race, and nation in Anglo-Australian popular fiction, 1875-1914 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995).

15. Ball, ‘Cultural Values’. Ball writes that ‘perhaps the most basic meaning of The Lord of the Rings is to celebrate the socio-functional role of narrative itself. But with the excision in the film of nearly all the poetry of the book, this vital expression of cultural values is missing. What we are left with is only the quest myth, a quasi-Jungian journey of the hero, dehistoricised, and stripped of cultural meaning’. I argue that Jackson constructs from and on Tolkien’s text a developing relationship between males (the journey of the hero and Sam ) that is not only fundamental to the stories Ball describes (as Sam argues in his lecture), but profoundly relevant to—historicisable with regard to—contemporary global politics and the New Zealand discourse of nation: it is crammed with cultural meaning.

16. The disembodied monster Grendel—’that dark death-shadow/who lurked and swooped in the long nights/ on the misty moors’—embodies fear in the Anglo-Saxon poem that dates from sometime between the seventh and tenth centuries. Beowulf, trans. Seamus Heaney (London: Faber and Faber, 1999), p.7.

17. Sam’s and Frodo’s fellowship indeed mirrors the deferred desire of King Aragorn and Arwen, his Elf-Queen-to-be.

18. Again the model is Bilbo’s storytelling scene mentioned above.

19. Lohrey, ‘Gallipoli’, p.33.

20. Dobrez, p.64

21. For example in an article in Theatre Australia 5..9 (1981), p.20; rpt in Zuber-Skerritt, p.45.

22. David Williamson: Compulsive Playwright (Film Australia, 1984)

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