"Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" introduces us to an alternate reality called Middle Earth, a place where "history becomes legend and legend becomes myth," according to the movie's opening voice-over.
And Middle Earth is indeed a mythic realm that holds many truths for those willing to make the journey to find them.
At the story's center is a ring of power created long ago by the evil Sauron. The ring's power is so great it can corrupt anyone who tries to wield it. In Middle Earth's realm of hobbits, elves, dwarves and humans, humans are most susceptible to the ring's power, even though the ring tempts in the form of one's longing to do good.
Yet the ring is a thing of absolute power. And just as Lord Acton wrote that "power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely," this is a story of how creatures handle absolute power … and the journey to rid the ring from the land of the living.
The hobbit Frodo Baggins is entrusted with the ring and is given the task of taking it back to Mount Doom, where the ring was forged. Only there can it be destroyed.
"The Fellowship of the Ring" is a film about a journey, both symbolically and literally, as nine creatures from Middle Earth band together to deliver the ring to Mount Doom. If the fellowship breaks, the journey goes on. If the end is uncertain, the journey goes on. The journey must continue.
Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit who gives the ring to Frodo, says: "It is a dangerous business stepping out the door. You never know where you will be swept away to." Journeys are dangerous, but they are often necessary to end suffering, much like the journey down the Via Dolorosa. Jesus had to make the journey to end the suffering of sin, just as the fellowship must travel to Mount Doom to end the suffering caused by the ring.
There is much here to engage a non-believer. All of these ideas speak to what being a believer in Christ is about. It is a journey that comes to us through the suffering of Christ. We cannot journey unless we change.
Nevertheless, a journey with Christ may cost us dearly. Dietrich Bonhoeffer declares that those who follow Christ must be prepared to die. But the death of self, the surrender to Christ, leads to life. Bonhoeffer states that only Jesus, who bids us to follow, knows the journey's end.
In the end, this journey of death leads to liberation, and that liberation is an experience of mercy that leads to true happiness.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Burgaw Baptist Church in Burgaw, N.C. He is a graduate of Campbell University, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mike grew up in Lumberton, N.C., where his dad ran a service station two blocks from two movie theaters. He spent many afternoons in the presence of James Bond and Mr. Limpet. Mike enjoys reading and playing video games with his two boys.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for epic battle sequences and some scary images.
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Frodo Baggins: Elijah Wood; Ganfalf: Ian McKellen; Strider/Aragorn: Viggo Mortensen; Samwise Gamgee: Sean Astin; Galadriel: Cate Blanchett; Legalos Greenleaf: Orlando Bloom; Boromir: Sean Bean; Gimli: John Rhys-Davies; Bilbo Baggins: Ian Holm; Saruman: Christopher Lee.