Frodo, Sam, and Gollum stand on the threshold of the Black Land. There is nothing there but poisonous fumes, flames, and ash. A dead land, a land governed by pure evil. Torture and malice are the behavioral standards regularly enforced. All evil is gathering behind the Black Gate.
The physical expression of tortured thoughts
Sméagol holds his head in his hands, reliving the torture and dread he faced when he was captured. When there is a thought we try to escape, our mannerisms are almost always the same. The unpleasant thoughts in our heads stir up the same feelings we felt in the moment of occurrence.
These negative feelings flow through our entire body rendering control of our extremities useless. We usually end up bringing the hands to our faces, covering our eyes, scratching our heads. We try everything in our power to escape that unpleasant feeling.
What these negative thoughts stir up is fear, plain and simple.
This is the first time that Gollum consciously alternates between Gollum and Sméagol. Up until now, he hadn`t had the name to place to his other persona. Now, that he can name it, the transformation becomes ever clearer. He names himself as he alternates between the two, so even the audience can keep up.
Master says to show him the way into Mordor. So good Sméagol does, Master says so.Sméagol
At the moment before the Black Gate, he is in full Sméagol mode. He commends himself on bringing Frodo and Sam to their desired destination. Simultaneously, he suffers at the mere sight of the place. He can`t stand even the sound of the horn of Mordor.
Sméagol`s flashback images storm his brain while still holding his head in his hands. It is a form of escape, a way in which the brain might be able to lessen the impact of said images.
A friend in need is a friend indeed
Sam moves a smidge closer, lying on a ledge overlooking the path that leads to the Gate. He slides downhill with the ledge and ends up buried in small rocks, unable to push himself out on his own.
Gollum cries out “Master” with an expression of concern on his face. Since in his Sméagol persona it might well be that he worries about Frodo getting caught. His thoughts seem genuine.
Frodo, without flinching, storms the path in a couple of quick steps, rushing to Sam`s side. As he cannot help dig Sam out in time, he uses his Elven cloak to shield both of them from the approaching Easterlings. Cloak saves their lives, as they appear similar to rocks much like any other in those surroundings.
The atmosphere underneath the cloak is something completely different. I don`t think I would have been able to stay so still in that situation. They are both scared out of their minds. However, in order to save themselves, they need to remain as composed as possible to not attract attention.
As Frodo prepares to run to catch the still open Black Gate, Sam readily prepares beside him. Frodo, although protected and comforted by Sam, knows he has to do this task alone. And being Sam`s friend and caring for his safety, he naturally doesn`t want Sam getting harmed. But Sam is unshakeable in his determination to help Frodo until the end, whatever that end might be.
A last-minute change of heart
As they prepare for the final launch Sméagol stops them by pulling on their cloaks. Based on his own torturous experience in the Black Land, he is positive Frodo will be caught sneaking into Mordor. So, naturally caring for him, in a way, he doesn`t want him harmed. Sméagol’s whole concern is based on the Ring being taken by its rightful owner. It is the ultimate motivational force guiding his every action up until now.
Sméagol is desperate for Frodo not to cross the Black Gate. His arms are outstretched as if in a plead for Frodo to listen to him.
He wants the Precious. Always he is looking for it. And the Precious is wanting to go back to him.Sméagol
Since the Ring and Sauron are essentially one, there is an impalpable relationship between the two. Sauron seeks his life force and the Ring responds to his needs, being a part of him as it is. Sméagol understands this relationship between the two better than anyone else, given the number of years he spent with the Ring.
His need to “protect” the Ring and hide in a cave for another long number of years is as painful and crucial as Sauron`s need for the Ring. At least Sméagol couldn`t use the Ring to terrible effect, as Sauron could. So, better to keep it safe at a great distance from its master, than to test their fate. Sméagol`s reasoning is actually very logical.
It is no wonder Frodo went with his decision to find another way into Mordor. Because, consciously or not, he also wants to keep the Ring safe. Sméagol does make a compelling argument.
But we mustn`t let him have it.Gollum
The addiction to the possession and obsession with the Ring overwhelms poor Sméagol, Gollum reappears. The changing width of his pupils are not as clearly visible as in The Hobbit, but the subtle difference is still there.
The change into Gollum is a remarkable one, I think. It is like a switch within him, almost like a puppet string you manipulate in order to get the movement you want. Living in such an incredibly excruciating personality twist must be a horrible way of life. For all his cunning and manipulation, he is still a poor lonely creature whose life couldn`t have gone any other way.
Sméagol remains in his Gollum persona until Frodo tries to bolt again for the Black Gate. This time, however, him holding Frodo back is only for his own selfish reasons. The Gollum persona only lets him act in a way that is beneficial for his getting the Ring back, hence the mention of a different path.
He then tells Frodo about a secret path into Mordor. But as he explains what awaits them on this other path, there is a hint of trouble as he mentions “a tunnel”.
In the slightest way possible, his Sméagol facial expression morphs for a single second instance. His eyes narrow slightly and his voice utters “tunnel” in a very malicious way. As if he is glad to show Frodo this tunnel and help himself to the Ring around his neck. As if he knows what terror dwells in that tunnel.
The information in this slight change of expression is all we need to know that Sméagol isn`t as helpful as he could be. Once his persona changes, it shines ever through the Sméagol exterior.
A change in Frodo
Now, Sam is right on target with his conclusion that Sméagol is “up to something”. However, Frodo is the crucial decider in this whole mission, and as he trusts Sméagol, especially in his groveling attire, he is inclined to believe he can bring them to this other path.
Frodo cannot see the subtle difference in Sméagol`s expression or his tone, he takes his words as guidance, allowing himself to stray from his instinctual compass.
Frodo looks upon the Black Gate with a missed chance look in his eye. He was terrified to enter, no doubt about that but the urge and the importance of accomplishing the mission was the motivation behind his every launch forward. Now, that Sméagol has managed to convince him otherwise, his expression turns sad and exhausted.
Sméagol bowing his head into Frodo`s cloak could be seen as an apology for holding him back, but also as an apology for what he is about to put him through. Or he may just be groveling for affection and acceptance with the one person who understands his plight. Or he is simply acting. The interpretation depends on the viewer I guess.
A valid but counterintuitive argument
Sam holds his own here, letting Frodo explicitly know what he thinks about the proposed changes to their plan.
Frodo: “He`s led us this far, Sam.”
Sam: “Mr. Frodo, no.”
Frodo: “He`s been true to his word.”
Frodo: “Lead the way Sméagol.”
Upon hearing this Sméagol head turns slowly up to look at Frodo in a subdued incredulity. He is stunned Frodo thinks this highly of him. and is willing to put his life in his hands, as he leads them on other paths. Sméagol has probably not felt this way for a very long time, or ever. He was always only a wretched creature, unworthy of anything decent in this world.
Frodo, however, finds the good in him, and he is right to do so. For Sméagol was true to his word and he did bring them to their desired destination. Frodo still has his reservations about Sméagol but those are fading ever so consistently. Fear draws on Frodo`s face as he lets Sméagol lead the way. Sméagol, still with apologetic eyes covered in sadness, promises to do what is asked.
Sam realizes the danger that is developing in front of him. His dear Mr. Frodo is beginning to slip and trust those who might harm him. His own instincts are right in doubting this creature. But what might hurt more than that is the fact that Frodo would take Gollum`s word over his, effectively putting Sam on the sidelines.
I do believe Frodo`s instincts are screaming at him. However, his rational mind is taking hold. It is allowing him to logically evaluate Sméagol`s help and convince himself of it being nothing but helpful. The fear crossing his face, however, gives way to the internal struggle that must be occurring within him. Sam only being his protection cannot know another way into Mordor. But this creature, that has proven helpful and decent has gained his trust against all the odds.
The expression on Sméagol`s face is not as fulfilled as one might think. It is not an expression one would have after being proven right about something. If I were offering help to someone I would be thrilled if they took it. Sméagol, however, knowing where he would be leading his Master, elation escapes his face. What remains is a sense of guilt and dread of what they will encounter.
We turn our attention now to Rohan. Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn are on a mission. Let`’s see what happens. Read on in my next post.
Featured image by Ana Segota.