Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring turns 20 this month, and as our thoughts linger there and back again, we’re reminded of just how many of its moments remain so brilliantly memorable decades later. But one of its most haunting and tragic scenes still lingers as a clear standout in Peter Jackson’s trilogy: Frodo’s encounter with the Mirror of Galadriel.
At the point when the Fellowship reaches the safe harbor of Galadriel and Celeborn’s protection in Lothlórien, it is battered and bruised both physically and spiritually. Having just fled Moria and mourning the loss of its lynchpin in Gandalf, all seems hopeless for the group, not just in getting to Mount Doom and completing their quest but being able to even stay together as a singular unit. As the Fellowship spends the night in melancholic thought, licking its wounds, Frodo finds himself alone, until he chances upon the Lady Galadriel herself, and is given the chance to peer into her magical font of foresight, to see what could become of the world should the Fellowship and its ringbearer, in particular, should falter.
What makes the Mirror of Galadriel sequence so stunning is not what it has to say about the temptation of the One Ring—the horror Frodo is asked to confront given the vision of Galadriel’s desires, should she succumb to his offer and take its burden from her—but the way it amplifies the tragic loneliness that comes with bearing a ring of power. Few people Frodo has encountered up to this point, not even Gandalf really, can relate to the isolation of being a ring bearer. But Galadriel, the keeper of Nenya, can—and those fears of isolation, and the need to just get through the will-sapping process of carrying the trinket to its doom in Mordor, are what drives Frodo and Galadriel to steel themselves for their respective tests in this brief moment together. Sure, there’s dire warnings of Boromir’s faltering temptation to take the ring to Gondor and the promised doom of the Scourging of the Shire—an event from the books otherwise left untouched in Jackson’s trilogy after its glimpse here—but what drives Frodo and Galadriel alike in this moment is that melancholic, mournful loneliness.
The first vision Frodo sees in the Mirror of Galadriel isn’t the Shire’s dire fate should he give up, but the faces of his friends and their crushing disappointment. What Galadriel wants, should she become the Dark Queen is more than power, but to be loved, as terrible as it would be, by the people she could enthrall with its might. The two ringbearers are tempted by the chance to not have to face their tasks alone, even as Galadriel urges the young Hobbit that he must leave the Fellowship behind in order to stand a chance of completing his quest. Not that he gets a say in that matter ultimately, with Sam forcing himself along for the ride out of his love for his friend anyway—but that’s only after.
In this moment in the shade of Lothlórien, Frodo has confronted and steeled himself to the idea of having to put aside his need for company to face a task that only he can do. If the price to pay for bearing such terribly powerful artifacts is loneliness, it’s one that has to be paid—Galadriel putting aside her yearning to be adored is rewarded with her getting to remain herself, and pass into the undying lands to be with her people. Frodo’s acceptance is rewarded with getting out of the Battle of Amon Hen in one piece before the Fellowship’s undoing can be his own... albeit with the ever-faithful Sam in tow, rather than truly alone.
But Sam’s wrinkle to the lesson Galadriel has Frodo learn is, in turn, part of what makes Fellowship such a beautiful, earnest adventure movie in the first place. Frodo’s greatest trial in the movie is to accept that he and he alone can carry the One Ring’s burden, that the tragedy is in the loneliness he will feel in order to do so. But he also doesn’t realize until Sam wades into the waters of the Anduin after his best friend that some bonds of friendship, some loves, ultimately, are too strong to let such a tragedy stand. Even if Frodo is prepared to take on his grand quest alone, he has a friend who’s more than willing to share the load of such a sad and lonely task to fight against that prescribed melancholy.
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