The lights faded in the theatre, and the last of the local commercials ended—they don’t show previews here in Wanaka, New Zealand, just ads for local holiday homes (that I clean), retail outlets, and places to get your sheep sheared. I hesitate to draw on drug references, but when The Hobbit script faded in to the screen, I felt a certain thrill rush its way to my head and entered a state that can only be described as “good vibrations,” a humming ethereal nirvana that can only come from Tolkien.
The vibes wiped away my initial discomfort at being split up from the people I came with and finding the only empty seat was beside a teenage couple—who were trying to meld bodies in a rapturous romantic embrace despite the immovable armrest between them—and behind idiotic hormonal teenage boys, who still hadn’t figured out how to sit quietly without moving.
I prepared myself mentally and physically by reaching for my non-existent bag of popcorn and gargantuan soda. A sigh. Damn my poverty. Technically, I hadn’t been paid yet, due to some bureaucratic crap that could have been avoided.
Basically, it was all a German’s fault—the longer explanation is involved and boring as hell. So I’ll just skip it and blame the absent foreign third party with as few details as possible and hope you’re satisfied. In America we seem to do this a lot—sometimes it can lead to decades of strife and barely concealed enmity but usually not.
Thus, I had no popcorn, no cookies, and no soda infusion, which would usually have me debating whether I could sneakily pee in a cup without anyone noticing, deciding being branded as a sex offender wasn’t worth it, and blitzing out of the theatre halfway to issue my version of the Colorado River from my loins. But still I was there, and I had the Tolkien good vibrations.
The opening chords to The Battle of the Five Armies played out, and I thought back to where I was last year at this time—senior in college with one semester left, American friends who knew me well. Now I was in a place of my own, working full-time as a housekeeper, and was seeing the movie with a gay Frenchman and his two female friends in New Zealand.
It was all really a mistake that I was there in the first place. To my lasting shame, I hadn’t planned on going to The Hobbit premiere this year. It was a combination of things, I suppose. Frankly, I’ve been disappointed with the last two Hobbit movies: the addition of Tauriel, the pandering to ridiculous action scenes, three movies from one book, bizarre weaponry, CGI orcs… I even had to come to terms with even a Bilbo who wasn’t Ian Holm. Paying sixteen dollars to have my heart broken is not my definition of a good Thursday night.
But earlier in the day, my French workmate had mentioned, or rather effused a certain sense of giddiness about the upcoming Hobbit movie; he was like my nephews before a trip to the exotic reptile store—feverish, ticking away the minutes until a massive lizard-like creature would make its appearance and eat things.
I thought I had found an ally, a kindred soul, someone who would appreciate the poetry and genealogies I was ready to recite. So I casually mentioned that I had brought the One Ring to New Zealand with me (which I brought mostly because a sword would be such a hassle at security).
“Uhhhh…” he responded with the type of sigh you give before telling a man his fly is down, “Well, I’m not that into eet. But yes… okay, that’s fine.”
For a minute, I was back among my college friends who wouldn’t bring the One Ring but who would appreciate the fact that I did—friends who were now far away. And here I was embarrassed, having somehow out stepped my bounds, worried that I would now be perceived as the type to dress up as Samwise Gamgee, which is actually true. I would totally don those oversized, furry feet if I were two feet shorter and had more money.
Even something like reading isn’t appreciated or pursued in any strong sense. I received some of the dullest stares and thudding silences when I asked if any of my workmates had read anything good lately, which was the most depressing thing since $3.29 per kilogram for carrots. Compared to home—where the casual observer may say that my family has a reading problem and should seek help from the local psychiatrist—and four years in the Calvin English department—where an author’s written word is painstakingly dredged for meaning (even Joyce’s Ulysses, which causes one to question whether Joyce was fully sober when he wrote it)—and I’m gasping for intentional conversation about anything written.
Sitting in that chair then, next to the two fawning lovers who had settled on clasping their hands as if an immediate crash landing where imminent, and Smaug destroying everything in sight on the screen, I realized that I was far, far from home.
The concept would be easier to bear if things would remain the same, as if it were all taped and glued together so nothing would change. But like Bilbo returning to Bag End, sometimes you return home and your neighbors are rifling through your linen and walking out the door with your cutlery. It’s never quite the same, especially as friends move on and away.
But that’s life—confusing and without a good, proper answer to solve all of our angsty questions. I let myself be drawn into the plot and tried to enjoy The Hobbit for the movie it was as my French friend was doing, immersing myself in the plot and the two and a half hours of swords, fire, Legolas doing ridiculous things, and various smashed objects.
Soon enough it was over. The audience wasn’t going to clap, but I forcibly drew my hands together—I had to. I would have stood up too were the ceiling not sloped. Reluctantly, several other people joined in, their clapping sporadic and forced, which made me clap all the more enthusiastically.
It wasn’t a gesture to show how much I approved of the movie, but rather a salute to Middle Earth in general, a farewell to the kind land that had come to screen and affected my life for the past thirteen years and to the friends, family and Frenchmen who had somehow become wound up and associated with Tolkien’s world.
Ben Rietema (’14) lives in Wanaka, New Zealand at the moment. Besides staring at and running in mountains, he makes a wicked hospital corner and can clean a bathroom like Gandhi (if he were a housekeeper) at his job at a local lodge. He also enjoys saying “HOUSEKEEPING” in the highest pitch voice he can muster before entering a room to service it. benrietema.wordpress.com/