The second part of my list of “Memorable Confrontations” from all aspects of literature, film and TV … enjoy! 🙂
Beowulf vs Grendel
The Old English epic poem has much to offer to any individual reading this 3000-verse piece of history; not only to budding historians, or poets, but also storytellers in general.
‘Beowulf’ is a prime example of a piece of literature that incorporates the essential qualities of a narrative, complete with motivations, obstacles and three-act structures. Furthermore, it is filled with Christian symbolism and other representations present within the flowing text of the poem – providing scholars with a wealth of information on various aspects of the work and the time period it was written in. Among these scholars was none other than J.R.R. Tolkien himself – considered the leading expert on the poem during his time.
The story revolves around the character of Beowulf, a Geat who with his companions, comes to the aid of Hrothgar (King of the Danes). His hall of Heorot is being attacked by a monstrous being known as Grendel and Beowulf (renowned for his courage and strength) decides to face and get rid of the monster once and for all.
The poem follows the journey of Beowulf as he deals with three major obstacles: Grendel, Grendel’s mother and (later on in life) a dragon who threatens Beowulf’s homeland.
Each of these scenes have their own special moments, however, the initial confrontation between Beowulf and Grendel remains the most iconic encounter in this literary work.
The descriptions of the horrors and darkness that surrounds the creature as he stealthily enters Heorot one more time to deal death, unknown that he is being watched by the eponymous hero, the duel that eventually ensues between the two is bitter and violent – displaying Beowulf’s almost inhuman strength and courage against a seemingly insurmountable odd.
The location of the encounter (the Mead Hall), the dialogue, the fighting and the characteristics of the hero, all bring together the essential qualities of the Anglo-Saxon world … a truly unforgettable reading experience.
Thor vs Jörmungandr
According to Norse Mythology, at the end of a specific period, the world will come to an end by means of Ragnarök.
Rather than the usual good vs evil concept, the Norse equivalent of Armageddon is based more on the idea of Order vs Chaos, the former led by the Allfather of the gods, Odin (not Anthony Hopkins – even though he makes a cool Odin) and the latter involving gods such as the trickster Loki (correct, not Tom Hiddleston either).
Amongst the gods, warriors and other beings that fight each other on that day is Thor, who confronts his long-time enemy, Jörmungandr (the Midgard Serpent) – a giant sea serpent and offspring of Loki. In some of the Norse Sagas, we find a few instances where the two confront each other, but the duel between the two remains unresolved.
It is here, during Ragnarök, that they finally engage in a bitter fight to the death that sees the god of thunder strike down the creature – only to be himself mortally wounded.
The idea of having these two powerful enemies who, throughout much of the Sagas are apart from each other, finally meet at the end of the world and fight it out to the death, makes for a very iconic scene worthy of being part of a mythology.
King Arthur vs Sir Mordred
From Norse Mythology to Arthurian literature. Most people have heard of the famous King Arthur, some king in Britain who met Merlin and had a round table of sorts and a handful of faithful knights in his service.
Yet few may realize the depth and numerous works that construct the legends of Arthur – spanning across hundreds of years, several countries and numerous writers, this literature contains some of the most interesting narratives that revolve around this classical hero.
So who is this Sir Mordred?
Long story short, Morderd is considered the illegitimate son of King Arthur, who after much betrayal and “evil-ness” in the court of the King, becomes the principal enemy of our hero.
The confrontation between the two culminates at the Battle of Camlann where the two ensue in a deadly struggle which sees Arthur dealing the final blow, but is in turn himself killed. In his latest published work, ‘The Fall of Arthur’ Tolkien recounts (in verse form) this very iconic encounter between the two, covering some of the events prior and after the battle.
(Note: I’ll be talking about ‘The Fall of Arthur’ in a future post)
By seeing the progression of the whole Arthurian tradition and “witnessing” the final battle of Arthur, this whole body of work that is available to us in many different forms of writing, is probably one of the most important and enduring pieces of work in Literature; standing alongside others – such as Norse Mythology and yes, I’ll admit it, Tolkien’s legendarium. Naturally. 🙂
Blondie, Angel Eyes, Tuco Ramirez (The Good, the Bad, the Ugly)
Back to some film examples. If you’re a fan of Western, you may (or may not) admit that ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ is probably the best Western ever made. Whether that is an overstatement or not, you’ll be the judge of that.
I’m only here to discuss the memorable duel (or “truel”, considering the circumstance), between the three individuals. In what can be described as one of the finest examples of the use of film montage, this scene will probably send shivers down your spine – even if you’re not into the whole gunslinger-cowboy-thing.
I won’t go into the story itself, but rather focus on this one scene.
Ah, the chills! The chills!
This can be considered as a classic Western standoff between three individuals. Ennio Morricone’s music reaches new emotional heights as he guides us through the build-up of such an intense moment.
Who will be killed? Who will stay alive? Who shall point the gun at who?
All these questions are racing through your head as you see these three characters, appropriately met in a graveyard in the middle of the desert, slowly reaching for their guns.
I’ve mentioned earlier, the clever use of montage and indeed, in this scene we see an example of Rhythmic Montage (as identified by Russian film-making theorist, Sergei Eisentstein). The idea is that, by using editing to cut your images and camera angles of varying duration, you can create a particular “rhythm” (even accompanied to the music), as a director (or editor) you will be able to intensify the emotional impact on the audience.
Indeed, in this scene we witness the brilliant use of camera angles: beginning with wide-shots to establish the position of each character within the scene, the get closer and closer to each individual – framing the eyes and the hands as they slowly reach out for their guns. Each face has a different expression, reflecting both the individual’s current state of mind and their character.
Eventually, as the music builds-up, so does the “cut” become fast and faster and the camera gets closer and closer, projecting shot after shot after shot to place the audience within the frenetic climax of the scene, until we finally witness the end result as the three extract their guns and fire.
Brilliant. I’ve stated in Part I that I don’t easily use the word “genius” and I’ve only applied it to ‘The Prisoner’ example. Yet, let me use it once more here. Genius.
I honestly cannot describe further how intense and emotionally impacting this scene is to me. So I think I’ll just shut up and continue …
Walter White vs Gustavo Fring
If you’ve been watching (and following) the hype surrounding the TV series of ‘Breaking Bad’ with much vigour, you’ll know what I’m driving at with this example – so here be some spoilers!
After witnessing the transformation of Walter White, from an introvert chemistry teacher, to a calculating (and sometimes cold-hearted) meth cook known as Heisenberg, the fourth season of the show escalates in a number of confrontations between him and the character of Gustavo Fring.
Fring, the current “meth king” of the area, employs Walter White’s expertise to boost his quality and production of crystal, but the two often end up in unexpected run-ins with each other.
Every time a scene takes places where the two find themselves threatening each other with words, the suspense created is incredible. You’ll find yourself constantly on edge, waiting for some stroke to occur from either of them.
And Walter, wearing the now Heisenberg-synonymous Pork Pie hat, is a truly terrifying individual to behold. Add to that the equally scary and impossible-to-penetrate character of Gustavo and you’ve got yourself and ticking time bomb – which eventually leads to the explosive (and unforgettable) events in the last few episodes of season 4.
So watch if you dare! 😀
Gandalf the White vs The Witch-King of Angmar
I’ve always considered the “extra” scenes in the Extended Editions of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ as part and parcel of the whole narrative of the film – so when a scene such as this plays on screen, I mentally incorporate it as part of the viewing experience.
But I digress … this is, after all, an example that involves both book and film versions.
In Tolkien’s ‘The Return of the King’, after the Siege of Minas Tirith is drawing to a close, the Lord of the Ringwraiths (leader of the forces of Sauron), enters the then broken gates of the city and is faced by the solitary figure of Gandalf – waiting upon his trusted steed, Shadowfax.
The two exchange a couple of hefty words, with the Witch-king mocking the White wizard and brandishing a flaming sword. A confrontation is about to ensue but a series of echoing horns signals the arrival of the Rohirrim and the beginning of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
In the film, the scene follows roughly the same course … roughly. In Peter Jackson’s adaptation, the event is placed on top of the battlements of Minas Tirith, as Gandalf (carrying Pippin) is on his way to save Faramir from his deranged father’s attempt to burn themselves. As the wizard races under an archway, he is met by his foe upon a winged fell-beast (in the book, he’s on a horse).
The conversation is pretty much the same, including the Nazgûl’s sword which bursts into flame. However, what fans most despise about this scene is that Gandalf is seemingly portrayed as the weaker of the two, managing to get his staff destroyed (which then magically reappears at the end of the film) and him falling off Shadowfax, with an expression of doom on his face.
The argument is that Gandalf is a Maia (an angelic spirit), whilst the Witch-King is but a mortal-man-turned-“undead” (and I use that word lightly here) by the Dark Lord.
This begs the question: “So how can the filmmakers portray Gandalf as being the weaker of the two when in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ book he fought back against a couple of Ringwraiths on Amon Sûl?”
However, I’ve always found it somewhat thrilling that the audience is meant to think, for a while, that the most powerful of the Good characters is about to be defeated in combat. It creates a moment of tension and the Witch-King uttering the words “This is my hour!”, as he draws his sword that turns to flames, is always an awe-inspiring moment – let’s face it.
Éowyn vs The Witch-King of Angmar
The more established and famous encounter against the Nazgûl is during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, against the seemingly beaten shield maiden of Rohan, Éowyn.
As the battle progresses, constantly shifting in favour of both the good and evil forces, Théoden finds himself mortally wounded and helpless against the Ringwraith – until his niece steps in to defend her uncle.
In a scene that sees the mortal woman facing the impossible foe, the sequence in the film manages to capture the feel and atmosphere of the book brilliantly – following closely along the narrative.
As both readers and viewers, we’ve been witnesses of a long journey throughout three films/books until finally, we arrive at this moment when one of the most feared creatures finds himself confronted by an admirable, courageous feeble-looking woman (and a hobbit).
In Part I of this article, I had discussed the “trinity” symbolism in the confrontation between Elendil, Isildur and Sauron. Interestingly enough, here we have the same structure: Théoden, the fatally wounded King, who is rescued by a family member who stands up against the overwhelming enemy. Whilst the characters are different, the concept of both scenes is practically the same.
Suffice to say, one of the highlights of ‘The Return of the King’ (mainly in the film) is actually this scene – particularly loved among women due to the immortal line “I am no man!” …
And yet another set of examples finished. Apologies for the lack of Tolkien-related confrontations I promised in Part I – but I’ll work on that for my next post.
In the meantime, if you think there are other “memorable” confrontations I am sure I haven’t mentioned yet, feel free to post in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to incorporate them in the next few posts. 😀
(Copyright of all screenshots and illustrations shown here belong to the respective studios, artists and estates)