Ever since it was first published in 1954-1955, J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings has been embroiled in politics, much to the dismay of its author. Proponents of the political left and the right have taken turns deriding or laying claim to the fantasy epic. Peter Jackson's film adapation didn't escape political scrutiny either. Time magazine's Richard Corliss did a rather famous review of The Two Towers claiming that the film now evoked the War On Terror, and that Saruman looked "eerily" like Osama bin Laden, and USA Today's Michael Medved insisted Viggo Mortensen had tainted the role of Aragorn because he openly declared his anti-war sentiments.
The latest political controversy that the series finds itself embroiled in is the Iranian electoral protests. Time has a piece from an anonymous Iranian resident reporting that the government is using film to try and quell public unrest. "In normal times, Iranian television usually treats its viewers to one or two Hollywood or European movie nights a week. But these are not normal times, so it's been two or three such movies a day. It's part of the push to keep people at home and off the streets, to keep us busy, to get us out of the regime's hair. The message is 'Don't worry, be happy.'"
All television channels in Iran are owned by the state, so the government is choosing its films very carefully. One of their offerings has been a Lord of the Rings marathon, ostensibly picked because its length and epic content will keep people glued to their television. "We're glued to the trilogy. We are riveted. A child in the room loudly predicts that Lord of the Rings will put an end to the nightly shouts, that people will not take to the rooftops and windows because this film will keep them occupied." But the author suspects that whoever chose the Rings trilogy may have done so with a subversive eye, and with the aim of encouraging the Green Revolution. "There are themes that seem to allude to Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the candidate President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims to have defeated: the unwanted quest and the risking of life in pursuit of an unanticipated destiny. Could he be Boromir, the imperfect warrior who is heroic at the end, dying to defend humanity? Didn't Mousavi talk about being ready for martyrdom? ... And listen: there is the sly reference to Ahmadinejad. Iranian films are dubbed very expertly. So listen to the Farsi word they use for hobbit and dwarf: kootoole, little person. Kootoole, of course, was and is the term used in many of the chants out on the street against the diminutive President."
Every character seemed to be imbued with meaning for the oppressed Iranians. The writer notes that the sight of Gandalf on Shadowfax evokes hushed awe and whispers, because he evokes Rakhsh, the mythical horse of the Rostam, the great champion of the Shahnameh. Even Treebeard is a sign of hope because he is green, and thus silently on the side of Mousavi.
To find The Lord of the Rings embroiled in more political upheaval, and right where you might least expect it, is absolutely fascinating to me. I wonder if there are similar pieces from Ahmadinejad's supporters, or that the government put the film on Iran's Channel Two see Sauron as Mousavi, and meant Aragorn to evoke Ahmadinejad and his "great victory" of 2009. Tolkien's series and Jackson's film has been all things to all people at any given time in history, and I imagine it will always be someone's banner. Though I share Tolkien's opinion that the book should stand free of any political or religious association, I can't help but be glad to hear that the film is providing some comfort and inspiration to those who need it.