Mechtild (mechtild) wrote,

The Tower of Cirith Ungol Pt. 2: Sam rescues Frodo, plus main essay for series (#2 of 3).


Discussion for "The Tower of Cirith Ungol":

In this scene, the differences between the book and film are apparent to any fan. Most obviously, book Frodo wakes up completely naked while film Frodo wakes up minus his shirt. That Frodo is naked and captive in the Tower has been given a lurid, even prurient spin in fanfic by some, perhaps inspired by the spectacle of beautiful film-Frodo bound and shirtless writhing and straining against his bonds on the big screen.

But the primary thing the nakedness of Frodo conveys to me is a sense of his extreme vulnerability. That was why I was sorry the filmmakers chose not to film the scene as written. They didn't need to show anything. Upper torso shots would have got the point across, preserving both the PG-13 rating and the sense of Frodo's acute vulnerability as a captive of orcs in the Tower. A clothed captive feels defenceless enough, but a captive stripped of every protective covering feels a defencelessness that is abject. Interrogating prisoners who have been stripped naked is a time-honored strategy. That it allows easy access to the captive's body is only one of its virtues. Being made to stand (or sit or lie) naked before clothed, armed "interrogators" increases exponentially the sense of intimidation and imminent violation. Naked prisoners are more easily terrorized, demoralized, humiliated, and inclined to despair. And prisoners who despair are the most likely of all to tell their secrets.

Frodo’s nakedness in the Tower also gives a deeper emotional context to his subsequent statement to Sam on Gorgoroth, “I’m naked in the dark, and there is no veil between me and the wheel of fire” (the icon of the Eye). Remembering this scene, when Frodo was literally naked, in a nearly-dark cell, with no “veil” between him and the burning eyes of his captors, makes the line far more powerful and resonant.

In spite of any rough treatment the orcs may have subjected him to, the horror Frodo feels seems to have been more mental than physical. He tells Sam that after the orcs revived him, forcing “some horrible burning drink” down his throat (perhaps the same sort of draught the Uruk-hai used to revive Merry in TTT), they stripped him of everything....

"[T]hen two great brutes came and questioned me until I thought I should go mad, standing over me, gloating, fingering their knives. I’ll never forget their claws and eyes.”

"I’ll never forget their claws and eyes." I read that not as them actually ripping his flesh, but brandishing and flourishing their claws the way they were "fingering their knives". And their eyes were horrible in the way they pored over and into him, obscenely enjoying their cruel power over him: "gloating". I felt I should go mad, he says . From the endless questioning, the sense of threat, and the way they looked at him.

Again, my point is that the trauma Frodo underwent in the Tower was more psychological than physical. Frodo does not seem to have sustained serious injuries. But Frodo must have looked in a bad way or Sam would not have asked, “Can you walk?” Frodo had the "ugly whip-weal", of course, which struck Sam immediately, but he apparently was not covered in weals. Yet he much have looked pitiable; scratched and bruised, perhaps. Notable was the fact that the orcs left Frodo in the chamber unbound (his hands are bound with thick rope in the film). Sam enters the room to see Frodo on the pile of filthy rags, “his arm flung up, shielding his head”. His hands are not tied. Perhaps they tied him up for "questioning", but I am guessing the orcs thought he looked so weak and debilitated, and the chamber so secure, they felt they needn't bother binding him to subdue him.

So, in answer to Sam, Frodo could and did walk. “I’m all right,” he says, getting up and pacing the chamber a few times. But, he explains, “I feel very tired, and I’ve a pain here,” indicating the place at the back of his neck above his shoulder where he had been stung. Frodo apparently was unaware of what “hit” him.

Frodo's “I’m all right,” always strikes me as the essence of heroic hobbit understatement. He has suffered the terrors and ordeals of Minas Morgul, the Stairs, the Tunnel, and the Lair. He believes all his friends are probably dead, perhaps now even Sam. He has been stung by a giant diabolical spider, and still aches from it. He has been made captive by brutal orcs, stripped, and interrogated until he thinks he should go mad. Worst of all, he has lost the Ring (so he thinks), and the Quest has failed, all because of his folly (so he thinks), and the free lands will fall.

"I'm all right," he says. He certainly is. After everything he endures in the Tower, he still doesn't crack, telling the enemy nothing. Yes, he's all right.

The film version of the Tower is very different. The matter of Frodo's lack of complete nakedness is a minor detail. Being deprived of his shirt and vest is adequate for the re-worked scene. He does not need to be naked to make the point. He is not the pathetic figure of the book, stripped of clothes and Ring and bearing up under endless questioning and intimidation. Film Frodo is shown waking up just as the argument between Gorbag and Shagrat erupts over his “shiny shirt". It is then that Frodo, hands bound and head still covered with scraps of webbing, feels about and finds that not only the shiny shirt but the Ring is gone. The orcs pay no attention to him, launching immediately into the conflict that takes them out of the room, leaving Frodo alone. Thus being shirtless is all that is necessary to establish that he’s been searched, that the orcs have taken the mithril corselet, and that he no longer has the Ring.

It is at this point, too, that the film scene really takes off. All the book's pathos of Frodo as a captive—of what he endured, of Sam finding him in a pititable state and weeping over him and cradling him, of Frodo having an attack of madness and seeing Sam as an orc—none of that is touched upon in the film. But the film scene is going somewhere else: straight past all that to the temptation of Sam by the Ring, and the near-conflict between the friends over the handing-over of the accursed treasure.

Sam’s temptation in the book happens in the Pass, before he gets to the Tower. He is wearing the Ring, and the accent of the temptation is on how the Ring plays upon its wearer's strengths, not his weaknesses. Wearing the Ring, Sam sees himself greatly enlarged, a hero saving the day, then as the gardener who will make desolate Mordor into a garden. As Gandalf and Galadriel warned, the good-hearted person will start off wishing to use the Ring for good, but that is not where it will end.

In the film, Sam never puts on the Ring. His temptation is shown as similar to Boromir's. Mesmerized by the golden circle hanging from its chain, he is reluctant to hand it over when asked. But then the similarity to Boromir's temptation ends and begins to resemble Frodo's. In the Tower, his hand outstretched, Sam's eyes widen, as if in sudden fear and alarm. He recoils his hand, as if he is seeing Frodo as someone else; someone strange and menacing. Then, still unsure, he stretches out his hand again, but tentatively.

Perhaps Sam has just had his own moment of seeing a loved one transform into a grasping orc, just as Frodo did in the book. The film scene seems to promote this, portraying Frodo as all the more understanding. He wants the Ring back badly, that is clear, but it is also clear that he is filled with empathy as he watches Sam's disorientation and struggle, recognizing Sam's fit for what it is: the very thing he has experienced himself. And he does not want this to be Sam's lot.

But, wait. When did Frodo experience the transformation of Sam into an orc, if that part of the book's Tower scene was cut? Preparing these posts, it struck me that the "Frodo-sees-Sam-turn-into-an-orc" moment is there, but moved to an earlier scene, that of the climactic conflict on the Stairs.

In the book scene, Sam offers to help carry the Ring on the grounds that it will be even more difficult to bear once they enter Mordor. "I could share it with you, maybe?" he says. The suggestion precipitates Frodo's fit. "Thief!" Frodo shouts at him, until Sam is on his knees, weeping, "as if stabbed in the heart." On the Stairs, Sam makes nearly the same offer, precipitating a similar fit. Frodo on the Stairs, like Frodo captive in the Tower, is beaten down by travail and fear and fatigue, and relentless questioning—but not by orcs, by Gollum. Like Frodo in the Tower, he recoils from Sam in fear and alarm, his face the picture of revulsion. And film Sam, too, ends up on his knees, weeping, "as if he had been stabbed in the heart".

But, unlike the book scene in the Tower, the film's Stairs scene has no moment of reconciliation. Frodo does not come to his senses and ask Sam's pardon. Not yet. It does happen in the film, but not until the reunion in the Tower. True, the film's script does not have the depth or pathos of the book's reconciliation scene, but it does "work". The lines are minimal, but the acting provides warmth and hints at a richer subtext. Frodo's look of pained relief at the sight of Sam, and Sam’s beatific smile, say volumes: “Sam, I am so ashamed, so sorry, and so glad to see you." "There, there, Mr. Frodo. I’m just that glad you’re alive. Never mind all that what happened on the Stairs.”

And "mind all that" they don't. Until Gollum shows up again on the slopes of Mt. Doom, the conflict between Sam and Frodo that festered and grew from the Emyn Muil until it erupted on the Stairs of Cirith Ungol might never have existed, all of it a bad dream.

Perhaps this scene was the filmmakers' way of smoothing the ruffled sensibilites of so many LotR fans. "All right, you've been warm all along, but now we're done. We've had our go at 'upping of the ante' for Frodo and Sam, and now we've put the characters back, safe and sound, right where Tolkien left them. It wasn't so bad, was it?"

Well, I suppose not, since I'm still here making these screencaps and writing these posts.


Film Scene: Sam rescues Frodo.

Sam enters the Tower of Cirith Ungol. Three Orcs come down the stairs, whom Sam fights, striking them off the stairs.

Sam: That’s for Frodo! That one’s for the Shire! And that’s for my old Gaffer! (At the top of the tower, Gorbag threatens Frodo.)

Gorbag: Stop your squirming, you rat! I'm gonna bleed you like a stuck pig!

Sam: (From behind Gorbag, running him through.) Not if I stick you first.

Frodo: Sam! Oh Sam, I'm so sorry! Sorry for everything.

Sam: Let's get you out of here.

Frodo: It's too late. It's over. They've taken It! Sam! They took the Ring!

Sam: Begging your pardon, but they haven't. I thought I'd lost you so I took It. (Sam pulls the Ring on its chain from his pocket and shows it to Frodo.) Only for safe-keeping.

Frodo: Give It to me. Give me the Ring, Sam. (Sam appears to struggle, hesitating to give it back as he holds it out.)

Frodo: Sam! Give me the Ring. (Sam slowly extends his hand and Frodo snatches it from Sam’s hand.)


Book scene, continued, from The Tower of Cirith Ungol.

But now he could hear nothing. Yes, he could hear something, but not a voice. Footsteps were approaching. Now a door was being opened quietly in the passage above; the hinges creaked. Sam crouched down listening. The door closed with a dull thud; and then a snarling orc-voice rang out.

‘Ho la! You up there, you dunghill rat! Stop your squeaking, or I’ll come and deal with you. D’you hear?’

There was no answer.

‘All right,’ growled Snaga. ‘But I’ll come and have a look at you all the same, and see what you’re up to.’ (…) He heard the hideous voice speaking again.

‘You lie quiet, or you’ll pay for it! You’ve not got long to live in peace, I guess; but if you don’t want the fun to begin right now, keep your trap shut, see? There’s a reminder for you!’ There was the sound of a crack of a whip.

At that rage blazed in Sam’s heart to a sudden fury. He sprang up, ran, and went up the ladder like a cat. His head came out in the middle of the floor of a large round chamber. A red lamp hung from its roof; the westward window-slit was high and dark. Something was lying on the floor by the wall under the window, but over it a black orc-shape was straddled. It raised a whip a second time, but the blow never fell.

With a cry Sam leapt across the floor, Sting in hand. The orc wheeled round, but before it could make a move Sam slashed its whip-hand from its arm. Howling with pain and fear but desperate the orc charged head-down at him. Sam’s next blow went wide, and thrown off his balance he fell backwards, clutching at the orc as it stumbled over him. Before he could scramble up he heard a cry and a thud. The orc in its wild haste had tripped on the ladder-head and fallen through the open trap-door. Sam gave no more thought to it. He ran to the figure on the floor. It was Frodo.

He was naked, lying as if in a swoon on a heap of filthy rags; his arm was flung up, shielding his head, and across his side there ran an ugly whip-weal.

‘Frodo! Mr. Frodo, my dear!’ cried Sam, tears almost blinding him. ‘It’s Sam, I’ve come!’ He half lifted his master and hugged him to his breast. Frodo opened his eyes.

‘Am I still dreaming?’ he muttered. ‘But the other dreams were horrible.’

‘You’re not dreaming at all, Master,’ said Sam. ‘It’s real. It’s me. I’ve come.’

‘I can hardly believe it,’ said Frodo, clutching him. ‘There was an orc with a whip, and then it turns into Sam! Then I wasn’t dreaming after all when I heard that singing down below, and I tried to answer? Was it you?’

‘It was indeed, Mr. Frodo. I’d given up hope, almost. I couldn’t find you.’

‘Well, you have now, Sam, dear Sam,’ said Frodo, and he lay back in Sam’s gentle arms, closing his eyes, like a child at rest when night-fears are driven away by some beloved voice or hand.

Sam felt that he could sit like that in endless happiness; but it was not allowed. It was not enough for him to find his master, he had still to try and save him. He kissed Frodo’s forehead. ‘Come! Wake up, Mr. Frodo!’ he said, trying to sound as cheerful as he had when he drew back the curtains at Bag End on a summer’s morning.

Frodo sighed and sat up. ‘Where are we? How did I get here?’ he asked.

‘There’s no time for tales till we get somewhere else, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam. ‘But you’re in the top of that tower you and me saw from away down by the tunnel before the orcs got you. How long ago that was I don’t know. More than a day, I guess.’

‘Only that?’ said Frodo. ‘It seems weeks. You must tell me all about it, if we get a chance. Something hit me, didn’t it? And I fell into darkness and foul dreams, and woke and found that waking was worse. Orcs were all round me. I think they had just been pouring some horrible burning drink down my throat. My head grew clear, but I was aching and weary. They stripped me of everything; and then two great brutes came and questioned me until I thought I should go mad, standing over me, gloating, fingering their knives. I’ll never forget their claws and eyes.’

‘You won’t, if you talk about them, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam. ‘And if we don’t want to see them again, the sooner we get going the better. Can you walk?’

‘Yes, I can walk,’ said Frodo, getting up slowly. ‘I am not hurt, Sam. Only I feel very tired, and I’ve a pain here.’ He put his hand to the back of his neck above his left shoulder. He stood up, and it looked to Sam as if he was clothed in flame: his naked skin was scarlet in the light of the lamp above. Twice he paced across the floor.

‘That’s better!’ he said, his spirits rising a little. ‘I didn’t dare to move when I was left alone, or one of the guards came. Until the yelling and fighting began. The two big brutes: they quarrelled, I think. Over me and my things. I lay here terrified. And then all went deadly quiet, and that was worse.’

‘Yes, they quarrelled, seemingly,’ said Sam. ‘There must have been a couple of hundred of the dirty creatures in this place. A bit of a tall order for Sam Gamgee, as you might say. But they’ve done all the killing of themselves. That’s lucky, but it’s too long to make a song about, till we’re out of here. Now what’s to be done? You can’t go walking in the Black Land in naught but your skin, Mr. Frodo.’



Just as a reminder, all my screencaps are tweaked and do not represent the true film image. Especially in dark scenes, I bring up the lighting quite a bit. I always crop the frames, too, removing the black bars (which I hate). I also increase the sharpness, more or less, of every image. My goal always is to better see Frodo’s face, although I try not to lose the original image’s visual feel.

Immediately below is a cap from Pt. 2 in its original state. For comparison, I have reposted the adjusted version.


Entries in the Tower of Cirith Ungol series:

~ Pt. 1: Frodo awakes, plus jan-u-wine’s “In Dremes”.

~ Pt. 2: Sam rescues Frodo, plus main essay for this series.

~ Pt. 3: Frodo takes back the Ring.

Table of all screencaps:

~ Frodo and Elijah screencaps Main Page.

~ Mechtild

Tags: essay, frodo screencaps, return of the king

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