A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Tolkien is a biopic about J.R.R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult), the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books. It includes intense war violence, with guns and shooting, exploding shells, a pile of dead bodies, a blood-colored pool of water, bloody wounds, a flamethrower, and a man on fire. Characters die. Kids fight, and a character is punched. Language is infrequent and mild but includes "ass" and "hell," plus some minor insults. A couple kisses, nude paintings are briefly shown, and there's a bit of sex talk. There's also some social drinking and pipe smoking, and characters get drunk -- the main character very much so, while in a state of anguish. While it's polite and has some nice moments, the movie spreads itself a bit thin, and doesn't spend as much time on the writing of the famous books as fans might hope.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In TOLKIEN, J.R.R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) is in the trenches of World War I when he gets word that his friend Geoffrey is nearby and in trouble. Tolkien flashes back to his school days as a lonely, orphaned outcast whose life is changed when he meets three other like-minded boys, Geoffrey, Robert, and Christopher. They form a secret society, and their friendship grows throughout the years. In his foster home, young Tolkien falls in love with Edith, and their romance likewise blossoms over time. Trouble comes when Tolkien goes off to college, and Edith (Lily Collins) -- without many other prospects -- becomes engaged to another man. Tolkien struggles to maintain his scholarship and finds his place with Prof. Joseph Wright (Derek Jacobi) in the languages department. Then war breaks out, and Tolkien returns to a very different life when the fighting is done. But his dream of storytelling has just begun.
Is it any good?
Hoult and Collins are likable enough in the centerpiece roles, but this polite, cautious biopic can't compare with the real-life imagination that brought about Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf, and the rest. Perhaps screenwriters David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford and director Dome Karukoski took on a little too much material with Tolkien -- the war, the romance, and the friendships -- or focused on the wrong places (the film only marginally explores the actual writing of The Hobbit). The war footage is numbingly typical, with the same rattling explosions and muddy splotches on actors' faces. Maybe less time could have been devoted to that and more to Tolkien's friendships.
The latter certainly seem to have been important to him, but given the long period of time the movie covers, the various actors playing the key roles at different ages, and the limited amount of time viewers spend with them, they never come to life; if anything, they seem rather interchangeable. But the scenes between Tolkien and Edith are often charming, and Collins is given more to do than this kind of biopic love-interest role usually provides; Edith challenges Tolkien and gets him thinking in fresh ways. What's more, she seems to have her own likes, wants, and aspirations. It's too bad the film couldn't have zeroed in on just their relationship. Or perhaps Tolkien's two hours just aren't enough to tell the life story of someone with so much to say.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Tolkien's violence. How do the brutal war scenes affect the rest of the movie? Do they seem necessary or gratuitous? Do all types of movie violence have the same impact?
How does the movie portray the friendship between the four young men? What good things do they get out of their connection? What are the downsides?
Is Tolkien a role model? Why or why not?
How is Edith portrayed? Is she a three-dimensional character, with her own thoughts, wants, needs, and desires? Why or why not?
- In theaters: May 10, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: August 6, 2019
- Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Patrick Gibson
- Director: Dome Karukoski
- Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some sequences of war violence
- Last updated: July 16, 2020
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