It’s easy to find screenshots of Orlando Bloom making strange facial expressions in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In fact it is practically a meme. And even if you hide all the examples that are fleeting expressions in the middle of the movement or that are actually from Orlando Bloom fooling around behind the scenes in footage on set, you will still be faced with a lot of very strange expressions from our blonde elf friend.
2021 marks the 20th anniversary of The Lord of the Rings films and we couldn’t imagine exploring the trilogy in just one story. So we go back and forth every Wednesday year-round, examining how and why the films have survived as modern classics. This is the year of the Ring of Polygon.
Then there are the line readings. Sentences like “A red sun rises. That night blood was shed ”, with intensity and a serious face. The Legolas of Peter Jackson’s trilogy exude the vibe of That One Weird Kid, someone who seems to be constantly surprised by everything that goes on around him – but also with a certain curiosity, maybe even amusement. He projects the feeling that he is distant from everything that is going on and also has absolutely no idea what is going on.
Many would argue that this was just Bloom’s natural confusion after he was cast in his first major film production two days after graduating from drama school. This reading may be true, but it is Likewise
Legolas is a nice country boy
This is Legolas as we see him for the first time and look around Rivendell like he’s never seen fancy elves before. That’s because he doesn’t have it. He comes from a society of, in short, the least fancy elves on Middle-earth.
This may sound strange because Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies showed us Legolas’ father wearing golden brocade and riding a full-tipped moose into battle, but the elves of Mirkwood are the least ethereal variety you’ll find in the Lord’s time from can find the rings story. The people of Elrond and Galadriel lived a life much closer to the gods of Middle-earth than Legolas, and it shows in their style, clothing, and architecture.
In addition, Legolas’ father Thranduil is an isolationist ruler. His people are trapped in a dangerous forest and they just don’t get out much or greet a lot of visitors. Legolas is the elven equivalent of a child who met without cable TV, pop music, or someone their parents didn’t know by name. Like the rest of the Companions, he mainly joined the Ring Quest because he was a capable person who happened to be in Rivendell when the group was put together, not because he was already a great hero.
Legolas is baby
Another of Legolas’ most common lines is when he walks into the obviously very old forest and confidently and with relish says that … it is old. Compare this moment with Tolkien’s full line The two Towers: “[Fangorn] is old, very old. […] So old that I almost feel young again, as I haven’t felt since my trip with you children. ”
Legolas is used to being the youngest guy in the room. Tolkien never gave his exact age, but since Legolas has never been to Lothlorien before the Companions’ visits, we can say that he was likely born after the shadow in Mirkwood became so dangerous that the journey between Thranduil and Galadriel’s kingdoms was cut off has been. That was about two thousand years ago. For context, Legolas’ father lived during the First Age, which makes it redundant six hundred thousand
This is Legolas’ dichotomy: for humans, he is unfathomably old. But to an elf, he’s a tiny little baby with no life experience who has never left home. And he is always becomes a tiny little baby – a prince who will never be a king – because elves don’t die.
Legolas cannot be killed in any way that matters
Orlando Bloom’s line for Legolas might make you feel like everyone around him is looking at the international expression on “Is this guy real?” But if the grave where his friends’ bones are buried is turned to sand by the elements, Legolas will still be sitting on that beach drinking wine.
In a very real way, almost nothing that happens around Legolas carries any weight to him. Elves can be killed, but they can’t really die. Without going into a full explanation of how elven immortality works, death does not cut an elf off from loved ones forever, nor does it prevent them from returning to Middle-earth.
Legolas has absolutely no personal experience of death, and it is in this arena that the choices Bloom made for Legolas become perfect. When the Companions leave Moria and collapse in tears for a man and weep for Gandalf, their fallen leader, Legolas looks like this:
This is a man who has literally never known anyone who died. He has no idea what the people around him are doing, let alone whether he should be.
Here he reacts to the touching final moments of Aragorn and Boromir together:
The most emotional thing Legolas shows in the whole trilogy could be when he argues with Aragorn about the wisdom of retreating into Helm’s Deep. He is deeply concerned that all of these already short-lived people – including his closest friends – have accepted their mortality. It’s like grabbing Aragorn by the collar and saying, “Don’t you know that if you die in real life, you will die in real life?????
From the sheer confusion of Gandalf’s death to Helm’s Deep to the moment in the return of the King If he smiles at the idea of dying side by side with a dwarf, Legolas’ explanation of the nature of mortality could be the closest thing to a non-Gimli-related story arc.
Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh didn’t have time to put all of this – how elven immortality worked, Legolas’ upbringing, his age – into the script of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There is too much to do and Legolas is too small a character. (Even Tolkien himself admitted that the elf “probably least achieved“Of the nine members of the community. A devastating burn.)
But they didn’t leave it on the cutting room floor either. Peter Jackson relies almost entirely on Bloom’s acting – his disoriented facial expressions and serious intonation – to convey all of these ideas. Bloom’s face conveys a paradoxical connection and distance. He is attached to mortals, with whom he has grown closely, but fundamentally detached from the world of mortals as they understand it. Sometimes the best way to play a distant, ethereal being is to just look like a total weirdo.