How do you track genius? Well,
one way would be to trace the influences that were significant in the life
of the person with the brilliant mind.
It doesn't explain everything.
But it sure adds some layers of complexity to an already
J.R.R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) was orphaned as a teenager,and left
in the care of a not-quite-kindly cleric, Father Francis (Colm Meaney).
After a couple of unsuccessful forays into foster care, Father
Francis sends Tolkien off to boarding school, where he makes fast friends
with three other students. They
form a club whose members consist only of themselves.
They are all very bright, and talk about everything from music and
literature to chess and billiards. These
bonds of friendship are immensely important to Tolkien, but he has also
developed an interest in a girl at the boarding house, also orphaned.
Edith (Lily Collins) is already an accomplished pianist, and
obviously very bright herself, but in the patriarchal world of
turn-of-the-twentieth century England, she could only aspire to be a
caretaker, or “home companion,” and suffered terribly from the lack of
intellectual stimulation that Tolkien took for granted at his elite
school. He and another buddy
get accepted at Oxford, and the other two at Cambridge.
Tolkien had always envisioned fantasy lands in his head, and even
as a boy made up a language, in addition to a narrative and a geography,
which he would only much later put down on paper.
His philology skills were recognized at Oxford, and he would have
been glad to just continue his advanced schooling, but the world
intervened. World War One
broke out. Tolkien and his
friends, loyal Brits to the core, join up with the rest of the lads, and
soon find themselves in the horrid trench warfare, where the land is
devastated and the troops are shell-shocked and everyone is in Hell.
Tolkien, contracting trench fever, begins to see images of fantasy
beasts patrolling the No Man's Land, mercilessly slaughtering all humans
in their path. He searches for
one of his friends among the doomed soldiers, only to discover, much
later, that his friend was already dead.
Tolkien survives several attacks of the deadly mustard gas.
Tolkien has now seen the darkest side of humanity, and it has
informed his perspective, because there is always a dark side in his
Fortunately for Tolkien, Edith is there to nurse him through his
war wounds, but he is devastated to discover that not just one, but two of
his old friends are dead, and the other has apparently become a shell of
his former self, so the fast-friends-fraternity is a thing of the past.
But Tolkien uses that influence of the strong bonds of friendship,
as well, in his Hobbit fantasy, and the Lord of the Rings, though the
movie pointedly omits any Christian inferences, much less his influence on
C.S. Lewis' conversion to Christianity.
Nonetheless, the movie “Tolkien” is an enthusiastic, creative
biopic of the early years of J.R.R. Tolkien, whose inherent genius was
evident to anyone who knew him. But
it was the people and events surrounding him that most shaped his
incredibly inventive body of work.