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Viggo Mortensen rises to the occasion as Aragorn, the King who takes up his destiny to lead mankind out of damnation and into a new future as The Lord of the Rings trilogy comes to an end. Mortensen himself is a poet and a musician, which feed into his personality and in turn into Aragorn, making this the single most important link to our sensibilities in the contemporary world, argues Andrew L. Urban.

Viggo Mortensen has been a piper, a poet, a pawn and a King; the first two in real life, the latter two on screen. As Aragorn in The Lord of The Rings, he takes up the latter role in the final episode of the trilogy, The Return of the King. It’s a role that grows with the story, Aragorn first appearing as Strider, one of the mysterious Ranger –wanderers who perform discreet military operations against Sauron, who threatens to eradicate all traces of Middle-Earth.

Mortensen – as the actor –makes the contribution of emotional gravity to the trilogy, even though the emotional resolution of each character is the element that elevates the films to something akin a collective masterpiece. The fact that Mortensen is a poet is, I suspect, a significant factor in how we perceive him as Aragorn. For some people, the image of a poet is hazy, romanticised and probably takes form as nothing more than a thin fellow with wispy hair who is the butt of bullies.

Those people might be surprised to learn that poets have unleashed revolutions against oppression, fought in battles and are the guardians of true human history. The difference between a poet-actor acting a King and any other actor is to be found deep inside the core of the soul. If that sounds wanky, let me rephrase it: the guts of a man are not in his muscles.

“At our best, we, like the Fellowship, realise individually and collectively that peaceful co-existence can be achieved only through vigilance and conscious compassion,” says Mortensen. “Compassion for oneself and others, especially for those determined to do us harm. An effort to identify with others leads to an understanding that there is no absolute difference between us.”

"eternal vigilance"

The word vigilance brings to mind John F. Kennedy’s immortal words: “The price of peace is eternal vigilance.” (And how apt that is today.) But I’m straying; here’s the thing, Mortensen understands that Aragorn is not a King after power. The nobility he has to find in himself is not the obvious nobility of Royal blood, but what it gives a person. And that’s the compassion he’s talking about.

As the trilogy comes to its end, Sauron’s forces have attacked Gondor’s capital of Minas Tirith in his final siege against mankind. Watched over by a fading steward, the once great kingdom has never been in more desperate need of its king. But will Aragorn find the strength to become what he was born to be and rise to meet his destiny? 

As Gandalf desperately tries to move the broken forces of Gondor to act, Théoden unites the warriors of Rohan to join in the fight. Even in their courage and passionate loyalty, the forces of men – with Eowyn and Merry hidden among them – are no match against the swarming legions of enemies raining down on the kingdom. 

Despite their great losses, The Fellowship charges forward in the greatest battle of their lifetime, united in their singular goal to keep Sauron distracted and give Frodo a chance to complete his quest. 

Travelling across treacherous enemy lands, Frodo must rely increasingly on Sam and Gollum as The Ring continues to test his allegiance and, ultimately, his humanity. 

This is the reality in which Aragorn finds himself, faced with the biggest decision of his – and mankind’s – life.

A poet, photographer, painter and musician, Mortensen combines rugged masculinity with the creative sensitivity that makes a well balanced, rounded male. This complexity and multi-faceted personality drive the characterisation of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, and more than any other single character, links our sense of reality to that of the films. He is the figure whose sensibilities are instantly recognisable as those of contemporary western civilisation. He is the natural leader by virtue of honesty and sincerity, not by brute strength. His self doubts, whether he has what it takes to be the King, resonate with us all, except those foolish enough to confuse confidence with capability.

"appeal across genders and across generations"

Aragorn’s battle skills are unquestionable, but I doubt they are the reason for his appeal across genders and across generations. 

Born in New York to a Danish father and an American mother, Mortensen spent the early part of his childhood in Manhattan. His family travelled a great deal and he spent several years in Venezuela, Argentina, and Denmark. He began acting in New York, studying with Warren Robertson, and appeared in several plays and movies before moving to Los Angeles. Mortensen founded Perceval Press in 2002, a small independent publisher specialising in art, critical writing, and poetry. The intention of the press is to publish texts, images, and recordings that otherwise might not be presented.

Mortensen, whose acting credits start with Peter Weir’s Witness and include Jane Campion’s Portrait of a Lady, Sean Penn’s Indian Runner, Brian DePalma’s Carlito’s Way, Ridley Scott’s G.I. Jane and Tony Goldwyn’s A Walk on the Moon, has appeared on several CDs of music and poetry, and has had three books of poetry published. 

Here is a sample of his poetry:

CUTTINGS – by Viggo Mortensen
The afterthought of chimes 
filters in from next-door. 
I am under the echo, not 
listening so much as noticing 
it from time to time as 
I look over the results 
of my landscaping and 
weeding from a white 
wicker chair. 

An errant vine has sprouted 
two blue flowers 
where it reaches 
roots of the lemon tree. 
They are beautiful; 
I am suspicious. 
Are they a diversion, 
an entreaty to keep me 
from cutting back the vine? 
I’ll keep the flowers, 
put them in a saucer 
by your bed. 

Published December 26, 2003

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Viggo Mortensen


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