I do love the artist biopics (enough that I don't always allow myself to watch them because they can put me in weird moods if I watch them at the wrong times) and I do love Tolkien. So a movie called Tolkien about Tolkien's life? Why not just go see it opening night with the other dozen people who were there instead of at Avengers? And you know, sometimes you do have to catch these little movies right away otherwise they'll be out of theaters before you've even blinked an eye.
The movie focuses on the young Tolkien, the teenage orphan Tolkien who finds himself in his studies and his school friends and the college age Tolkien who excels at academia despite how his background differs from that of his peers. And Tolkien the young man who falls in love with Edith and who sees all the horrors of WWI. Funny, after the movie ended, I heard someone say how they hadn't been expecting that (they'd been moved by different things in the movie). But what had they been expecting? If you know anything about Tolkien's life, there wasn't really anything surprising in the movie. But I guess not everyone knows about Tolkien's life, hence biopics.
I would say the focus of the movie ended up being Tolkien's love for Edith and his way of dealing with or expressing what he saw in the war--and how both of these things interacted with his studies and writing. The way in which they added a touch of imagery corresponding to his fantasy writings was somewhat reminiscent of how they added the animal character imagery in Miss Potter. Obviously, the two are quite different, but the similarity was in that subtle touch; you don't want to overdue it because the story is about real life, not about the fiction itself. This would be opposed to something like Finding Neverland, where the lines are intentionally blurred more and the fantasy/animation is more pronounced.
It's easy to think of WWI when thinking of Middle-earth. But Tolkien's love for Edith is just as visible in his writing. Edith is everywhere. Most prominently, of course, in Luthien and then Arwen, but also in characters like Melian. I want to keep going and name all of the other female characters, like Galadriel and Varda, but those I think are more expressive of Tolkien's faith--specifically Catholic faith. Figures like Mary and the saints would also seem to be inspiration for many of Tolkien's characters. And yet this was the part that the film did not express.
Sure, it certainly mentioned that Tolkien was Catholic. But mainly the movie shows him at conflict with his guardian over Edith. Which was true. But he was also quite strongly Catholic. So I might have liked to see a little more of that faith in the movie. Not just drunk Tolkien shouting his broken heart on the campus grounds. They showed the hope existent in human relationships (love and friendship) but what about the hope coming from a greater power? Sure, we all know about Aragorn hoping to be with Arwen or Sam helping Frodo. But what about when Sam cries out to Galadriel from the fields of Mordor in what is essentially prayer (that Varda, presumably, answers with rain)?
They did, though, those human relationships nicely. It's tragic to see his schoolfriends that he formed such bonds with meet their young ends in brutal war. And it's . . . emotional to see the way in which he and Edith got through those years apart and then did end up together and happy their whole lives. I love that bit when his friend tells him about, essentially, the beauty of unrequited love. Ah, unrequited love. But it did end up being requited in the end--and that's the lovely part. (Side note: I don't know all the details of what was fact and what wasn't, but they certainly played with the timeline, didn't they? Tolkien was already married before he went to war.)
Main conclusion: it was a good couple hours' time. The journey was nice. But I won't be rushing out to watch the movie again, if I ever do at all. Maybe its best audience really will be people who are entirely unfamiliar with anything from Tolkien's life.