Faramir is one of the noblest, finest, and bravest characters in Tolkien, and for many people, the Faramir of Jackson's TTT is the biggest mistake of the films. He seems cold, cruel, greedy, and far less noble than Boromir in FOTR.
I was one of many longtime Tolkien-fans who had trouble understanding how Jackson could possibly do this to one of my heroes. However, after taking into consideration the different way events unfold in the movie, and what the movie-Faramir learns when, I have some answers, and have found he is still (mostly) Faramir. Whether or not those changes are justified is fodder for a very heated discussion, but let me give you my take on...
In short, movie-Faramir does not get enough information, early on, to have any reason to trust the hobbits, and in fact gets a lot of hints that he should not. Let's follow this from his perspective.
Book: Frodo and Sam are found cooking rabbit, camping out, and apparently oblivious to the activities of Faramir's company.
Movie: Frodo and Sam are found spying on Faramir's company in the middle of the battle.
Book: Frodo immediately tells Faramir who he is, where he came from, and quotes two lines from the "sword that was broken" prophecy as part of his introduction, which Faramir accepts, saying, "it is some token of your truth that you know them." Frodo admits Isildur's bane is part of his errand, reveals that the sword that was broken is coming to serve Gondor, says he would like to serve Gondor himself "if my errand permitted it," and wishes Faramir good luck on their ambush, impressing Faramir with his courteous speech.
Movie: First we get a Middle Earth Geography 101 lesson, in which Faramir learns that Rohan's under attack and can't aid Gondor, Mordor's gathering yet more armies, and, as he says, "The fight will come to men on both fronts. Gondor is weak. Sauron will strike us soon. And he will strike hard. He knows now we do not have the strength to repel him." After this grim realization, he turns to ask the "spies" about themselves. Frodo and Sam refuse to tell Faramir anything, until prodded, and then they are evasive and tightlipped.
Book: Frodo says he's a "chance companion" they found on the road, makes it clear he's got misgivings, but begs Faramir to "bring him to us" rather than slay him, saying he's a "wretched gangrel creature... under my care for a while."
Movie: Frodo lies to Faramir almost the moment Faramir meets him, claiming there's no third member of their party. Sam's expression shows Frodo is lying. So Faramir's first information about Frodo in Sam in the movie is that they are hiding something.
Book: Frodo tells about Boromir before they get to Henneth Annun, and in fact answers all of Faramir's questions as much as he possibly can, stating there's some things he can't answer because he's under oath by the Council of Elrond (at which Boromir was present). When Faramir describes seeing Boromir in the boat, Frodo is shocked, recognizing the belt Boromir picked up in Lórien: again another sign of truthfulness. Frodo is crushed, saying he fears his kinsman and friends are dead, with which Faramir can sympathize (since he has already been given enough to believe Frodo is being honest with him).
Movie: Frodo mentions Boromir was in their party, but when Faramir reveals his brother's death, Frodo stammers: "Dead? How?" Someone with something to hide might well feign ignorance in exactly that manner. Perhaps in the EE we'll see more, but as it stands, Frodo shows no sadness for Boromir's death, and if anything he and Sam recoil from Faramir when they learn he's Boromir's brother. The revelation sows more mistrust, rather than mutual sympathy.
The movie's Faramir is clearly mourning his brother's loss intensely; he seems almost shellshocked. The scene ends with a close-up of his face, and he looks numb. That is not the Faramir of the books, but a somewhat younger one, stricken with sorrow and beginning to lose hope much earlier than in the novels (much like Frodo succombing to the Ring earlier).
Book: Frodo had told Faramir about Gollum earlier, and begged him to be spared, so Faramir breaks his own rules (he should kill Gollum) and asks Frodo to fetch him. At this point, Faramir and Frodo have had a long full day of talking together about everything from their friendship with Gandalf to elves, and Faramir already has promised to help Frodo with his errand: he's just trying to reconcile his marching orders with Frodo's. They have come to like and respect one another. "The praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards," Faramir says, when complimented.
So when Gollum shows up, Faramir does Frodo's bidding and captures the creature, interviews it mainly to test whether it's really serving Frodo or planning to hurt him.
Movie: All Faramir knows is that Frodo's hiding something and in particular trying to conceal Gollum's identity. Faramir has orders to kill anything that comes near the pool, but instead of doing that, he sees Gollum as his only opportunity to get concrete information. So he tests Frodo. He's still trying to understand Frodo, and seeing how Frodo treats this wretched creature is as much of a lab experiment as anything, trying to work out Frodo's motives and character.
Book: Frodo had as much as told Faramir he had Isildur's Bane the moment they met, and that he couldn't explain everything because he was under oath— an oath he had given to Boromir as much as anyone else at the counsel. After they had become friends, Sam accidentally blurted out that it was the Ring which Boromir wanted.
Movie: Frodo and Sam have concealed their errand. Faramir learns about the Ring first from Gollum. We don't know everything he heard or learned by reading Gollum's mind, but this is NOT the best way for Faramir to learn about what Frodo is carrying.
Book: Faramir realizes immediately from Sam's words that his brother tried to kill Frodo over it, and even so for a moment the Ring has him in its power before he comes to his senses, grieving, and offers to help the hobbits. He already knows the Ring has destroyed his brother, so needs no proof to see its peril. And he had sworn a vow not to take it.
Movie: Faramir confronts Frodo with his discovery, and the Ring attempts to control Faramir. Faramir snaps out of it, but instead of giving any coherent answer, Frodo goes insane and starts trying to crawl through the walls. Sam begs for Faramir to have a little pity, and finally reveals their errand, to destroy the Ring.
But the movie's Faramir has come by a very different route to that vital bit of information. So far, the hobbits have only admitted truths when pressed very hard, when they're trying to wheedle their way to freedom; they've also lied to him. And Frodo is not in control of himself, clearly.
Just a little while before this, Faramir had concluded during the Geography Lesson that Gondor, the world of Men, and probably all of Middle Earth are doomed. The Ring tips the scales. Does he trust Frodo to succeed in his errand? Or does he see the Ring falling into his hands as a last chance, the only weapon that might possibly save his people, since they have no other hope at this point?
So far, Frodo has not done much to inspire confidence in him.
On the other side of the equation, Faramir is a Captain of Gondor, under orders to apprehend tresspassers and spies. He is presently sending his men into no-win situations, fighting a war they simply can't win. How can he expect them to obey the chain of command when he defies standing orders whenever it suits him?
His decision is logical. And it's actually fair for Frodo's sake too, since as far as Faramir knows, if Gondor falls (which it certainly will), "poor Mr. Frodo" will be one of countless victims once Gondor's defense of Middle Earth is eliminated.
Book: They part ways, then Faramir goes back to Osgiliath.
Movie: Faramir hasn't gotten reason enough to trust Frodo, so he takes him to Osgiliath.
Now the movie charts its own course. Frodo hysterically begs Faramir to let him go, claiming the Ring will destroy Gondor, but he simply hasn't got much clout based on his actions so far. What happens to change Faramir's mind?
Sam finally blurts out a bit more information: that the Ring drove Boromir mad and Boromir tried to kill Frodo. Again, not the best way for Faramir to learn the news. Sam was foolish but more tactful in the book. However, before Faramir can even react to this shocking revelation, the Nazgûl arrives. Faramir quickly orders Frodo to stay out of sight for his own protection and rushes to deal with the problem.
Frodo, unfortunately, disobeys, and nearly betrays them all by giving in to the Ringwraith's summons. Only Sam prevents him (and Faramir saves him too, by shooting the Ringwraith's steed; if Faramir had run away with the other men the story would've been over). After this, Frodo nearly kills Sam, but Sam manages to snap him back to reality. Frodo starts weeping, horrified at what the Ring nearly made him do, and he says, "I can't do this." Sam has to give him a pep talk, at the end of which Frodo shakily agrees they've got to keep trying for the sake of others.
Now Faramir has seen evidence that Frodo and Sam are good-natured and truthful at heart, but that the Ring is affecting Frodo's mind, so he can believe the shocking news he's just received that such madness killed his brother. Faramir has finally discovered Frodo's true character and motives. He could have decided Frodo's actions with the Ringwraith are yet more evidence that the hobbit is incapable of finishing his task. Surprisingly, he does not. He says:
"At last we understand one another."
Frodo and Sam have been assuming he's just like Boromir, which he's not. He's more of a thinker and a philosopher. Currently, he's a very depressed young man, dealing with his brother's death and the weight of responsibility for Gondor's safety and by extension all that of Middle Earth. Faramir knows that the world is depending on him, but that he does not have the strength or resources to succeed. He, also, "cannot do this". Yet he is persisting in his mission anyway, knowing the odds to be hopeless. Frodo is evidently doing much the same thing, for the same reasons. And both of them are mourning the death of a loved one: Frodo in the movie is desperately shaken by the loss of his father figure, Gandalf, and Faramir has lost the brother he loved and admired so much.
So Faramir decides to sacrifice his own life on the slim chance that Frodo can succeed where he can't. "Then my life is forfeit." Noble and soft-spoken and brave: that's exactly what we'd expect of book-Faramir (who, incidentally, is not under a death sentence: he just said he would deserve to die if he made a decision that proved ill for Gondor). When the movie characters finally part ways, Frodo is going to Mount Doom with a duty he's been given by his superiors which — as Galadriel tells Elrond — he knows will claim his life. Faramir is going back to Minas Tirith with a death sentence stapled to his forehead.
They do understand one another. For they are the same.
And perhaps Faramir sees in Sam, who has more hope than they do, a little of the brother he misses so much.
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