Crocodile Tear or Compassion?

The tower shakes. Uruk-hai spread out like a vast gray sea. Saruman basks in his moment of glory. A tear slides down Gríma’s cheek.

A tear? What does it mean?

The only certainty is that it’s ambiguous. Gríma was advising Saruman to catch Théoden and prey on their women and children just a few hours before, but five seconds ago he was protesting that Helm’s Deep would never fall. Was that pragmatism or second thoughts?

Is he awed and stunned by the power of Saruman and the magnificence of his army? Is he weeping at the realization that it will destroy his native land, all human life, and/or the object of his lust, Éowyn? Is that the moment when he knows he is damned? Is he feeling compassion for the men, women and children that he knows will die horribly on those spears and swords? Quite possibly, all of the above.

In his dealings with Éomer, he did not act insane, but calculatingly aware of what he is doing, twisting words to maintain control, or removing those threats to his authority which words could not neutralize. He was master of his fate and the fate of those around him. At Saruman’s side he has the ear of a tyrant but— as he sees clearly when he looks upon the army— he is powerless, and must simply cling to Saruman like a flea. There is also terror in that tear.

And horror. He loves that which is fair, knowing himself foul. He is mourning the certain extinction of that which he loves: all that is fair in the world, and one fair thing in particular.

The ambiguous tear is actually a signature of the actor, who specializes in playing conflicted characters who partake of both evil and good, calculating self-interest and tormented yearning that's borderline insanity. Almadeelena's excellent Brad Dourif page illustrates the first time I saw it, in Myst: Exile.

The tear is the visual summary of the character’s ambiguity.

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