Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.
Let me be clear, in the Lord of the Rings franchise, Boromir is my favorite character. As part of the Fellowship of the Ring, he is already a notable warrior. He starts out the first movie of the trilogy as something of an antagonist to Aragorn, the last descendant of the hidden kings of Gondor/Arnor. This is set up by the fact that Aragorn is the last descendant of Numenorean kings, while Boromir himself is the first son of the Ruling Steward of Gondor, being a prince in all but name.
Thus Aragorn, just by being alive, becomes a direct threat to the world Boromir and his ancestors have spent their lives protecting. This all leads up to the final moments in the Fellowship of the Ring where Boromir, who had succumbed to the One Ring’s seduction and tried to take it from Frodo, now lies dying as he tried to protect the other hobbits from pursuing Uruk-kai. Frodo and Sam have left the fellowship, and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are too far away to be of any immediate help until after the hobbits are captured.
Aragorn decapitates the Uruk captain and rushes to the fallen Boromir, pierced by three arrows. The would-be-Ruling-Steward confesses that he failed his companions in trying to steal the ring and that because of his failure, Gondor and the rest of Middle-earth are doomed to darkness. Yet Aragorn consuls him that he would not let that happen, finally affirming his kinship with humanity and allowing Boromir to pass away in hope as he says that he would have followed Aragorn as both his captain and king.
There are multiple reasons why this scene is so powerful, but I thought I’d mention my reasons, and perhaps it may align with yours. And I am going by the film's depiction of this moment.
The Living Example
Story wise, it's the conclusion to a friend-nemy dynamic that had been simmering between the two warriors. The movie establishes that both men are accomplished warriors, perhaps more so Boromir given the number of enemies he slew single-handedly in his final battle before being sniped three times with arrows. Both men are also established as being good people at heart. Boromir’s issue with Aragorn isn’t out of malice. Boromir initially regarded Aragorn as a rival to himself and his father, despite the fact that Aragorn had no desire for the throne. He believes Aragorn is the rightful heir, but also believes that Gondor has done relatively fine without a king since their last one died centuries ago. Likewise, Aragorn holds a distrust for Boromir because of his revealed weakness to the Ring's influence, even ready to kill him at one point when he thought the Gondorian was going to take it for himself when it fell off Frodo's neck.
As the fellowship journeys across Middle-earth, their rivalry slowly cools to the point where Boromir at least acknowledges the ranger as noblemen of Gondor: not quite king, but no longer a threat either. Both men see the nobleness in the other, yet there remains one hang up. Aragorn still disavows his humanity in favor of his Elvish upbringing, distrusting it as it was responsible for the One Ring’s and thus Sauron’s survival.
Boromir counters this with his lived experience that as flawed as people are, that they are still good as a whole. With a little help from the ring’s corruption, Aragorn rejects this premise and ignores Boromir afterwards. It's only seeing Boromir’s sacrifice that he finally begins his journey in accepting his humanity and eventually the kingship. Had Boromir not been pestering Aragorn during their journey, the future king would not have been put into a position where he would have to overcome his prejudice and self-hatred. Moreover, Boromir’s legacy continues throughout the movies as his friends, father, and brother all acknowledge him as a symbol of not just the best of Gondor, but the human race.
All this of course is obvious to anybody whose seen Fellowship of the Ring, but the real weight for me comes from applications I see in real life. Here are my observations.
Co-Existing Parallel Views of Masculinity
Aragorn and Boromir’s relationship both affirms and subverts our ideas of masculinity, for both the traditional and progressive points of view.
To begin with, they’re bonding over a quest and through combat situations. This is very traditionally male-oriented in regards to the acceptable requirements for male closeness. In many societies, the only acceptable ways men can show closeness to each other is through battle and sacrifice. And even in other arguably more open-societies like the ancient Greeks, battlefield bonds still outranked other forms. It’s a battlefield bro-code if you will, and you see even today among vets, both male and female, as people who shared a common, extreme experience that others are not and cannot be privy to.
War in and of itself is above any social debates and morality issues because its an level field for all who want to get involved and demands the same for all. Once you step onto that field, you can now die at any point and in any way, and there is no longer any certainty that one can hold onto accept those who they fight with, and if the conviction is powerful enough, the cause they represent. It leaves little room for ego, especially when you find yourself suddenly at death’s door. If you're lucky, your comrades will be there to see you through one way or the other.
It’s is about recognizing the other as an equal and this is exemplified throughout Fellowship and in Boromir’s death scene. As he lays there dying with the despair he’s been trying to hide, now on full display, he has no issue confessing to Aragorn his failure as man, a ruler, and a warrior. Nothing could be a lower point for someone with those values. He grasps the back of Aragorn’s head in tears like he’s looking for someone to tell him that everything will still be ok. It’s the love of brothers, even shared by Legolas, Gimli and the hobbits when they eventually find out about his death.
Traditionally, men are not allowed to show such feelings for fear of appearing weak, gay, or vulnerable. The only feelings publicly allowed are oriented with strength, success, lust, aggression, and anything else that’s assertive. They are, or so we’ve been told, the most prized feelings over all others.
However, the death scene subverts this by showing accomplished men having this moment of vulnerability because circumstances overwhelmed their own control. Yet because they now saw each other on equal footing, they felt comfortable enough to drop their former pretenses, albeit being forced upon them. The moment of Aragorn holding Boromir’s head as he kisses it in tears cements this view for me.
However, the scene also subverts the progressive interpretations as well of how men should behave. There has been a movement in the last 20 years that masculinity needs to be less ‘masculine’ and more vulnerable. That men should show more feelings and let go of the traditional views of their gender, less they become-and dare I say it- toxic masculine.
Boromir subverts this expectation by showing to the audience what he shows to Aragorn. As he tells him on the night of their argument, that despite its failings, there is some worth in some of those traditional values like loyalty to your brothers till your life’s end. The movie slowly starts to show that Boromir is courageous and brave and that his failings stem from the tremendous responsibilities thrust upon him as a future-Ruling Steward of a failing Gondor. Everyone, even his family, look up to him as their literal Superman.
No one would question Boromir’s ‘manliness’ up until that point because he struggles with the fellowship and bonds with them. His toughness has street cred. It’s his pride in being Gondorian that spurs him on, not any kind of selfish ambition.
Our progressive expectations are also challenged by the closeness Boromir and Aragorn being not sexual or romantic in any way. This has of late come to be the expectation we have when seeing two men close emotionally and traditionally this gay perception was banned. It’s the love of a band of brothers and that can just as much exist between men as romantic love can and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s just the interpretation of these two characters and not a social commentary preaching what they should and should not be.
If people wanted an example of homosexual love between warriors, they could look to the real life Sacred Band of Thebes. Ancient warriors during the Greek Peloponnesian Wars who were as renown as the Spartans, but were also noted for their homosexual relationships. So in a modern world that demands you be one or the other, Fellowship’s portrayal of Boromir and Aragorn is a big deal and a major accomplishment to be one without condemning the other.
"The Mightiest man maybe slain by a one arrow...and Boromir was pierced by many."
— - Pippen, Return of the King
A Brother’s Legacy
If anything, Boromir’s death cements the bond between his remaining friends. Even Frodo, who Boromir assaulted trying to take the Ring from him, speaks well of Boromir and is reluctant to tell Faramir of his failure at the end. Even more so is that when Faramir tells him that Boromir has died, which Frodo was unaware of as he wasn't there by that point, the hobbit suddenly demands of his captors that they tell him what happened to Boromir, rather than breathe a sigh of relief.
And later when Peregrin is in Gondor before Boromir’s father, Denethor who is grieving over the recent news, he joins the army of Gondor out of a sense of honor-bound debt to his deceased friend and praises him for how truly strong he was. It’s important because Merry isn't a warrior and knows it, and has always been the most adverse to risk. So for him to throw himself into the frontlines like he did while against Gandalf the White’s advice, says something of the bond the hobbit still feels for his fallen friend.
In all of these, it's a love with depth that is not worried about meeting others expectations of what they should be to each other. In my eyes, it's the perfect balance of masculinity. It’s Boromir’s vulnerability that makes him my favorite character and why his death always hits me when I see it. While the other characters had flaws and they’re shown, Boromir’s was always the one most hidden and also most apparent. He had the most to lose, carried the biggest burden with the possible exception of Frodo, and seemed to me the most genuine. He was both a weak man and a strong man and that duality is very unique.
© 2020 Jamal Smith