Two of my favorite scenes in the movie, The Return of the King (the third in the Lord of the Rings trilogy) occur near the end of the film.
The first is where Gandalf has flown in with the eagles and rescued Frodo and Sam from becoming crock pot ingredients in the meltdown of Mount Doom. That rescue scene itself has a quiet poignancy to it, a wordless picture of unexpected – almost unbelievable – salvation at a point in time when Frodo and Sam have resigned themselves to death. They have completed their mission and have done so together. They dream of what might have been, but they realize their predicament leaves little hope of retirement planning. And then, out of chaos and destruction come Gandalf and three birds big enough to do some major damage to your windshield if you ever parked beneath their roost.
Fade to black.
The next scene contrasts itself from the Mount Doom rescue in almost every way imaginable. Darkness, menace and heat are replaced by light, calmness and an almost visceral sense of the coolness of the sheets that envelope Frodo as he awakens from his ordeal. The parade of friends soon begins and provides closure, but those first moments of awareness draw me in most. Here is one of the few places in the movie where I can empathize with a fictional creature with funky ears and large, hairy feet who hangs out with wizards, dwarves and elves and has just outsmarted a very bad dude who must go through Visine by the barrel. Here, in this moment, the film captures the wonder of return.
Particularly after hard trips that exhilarate but also exhaust us physically, mentally and emotionally, coming home provides a sense of accomplishment and completion. We have discovered something about ourselves that we never dreamed we were capable of and now that we have reached our journey’s end, we can afford to let down our guard and simply rest. Like the deep sleep that we fall into after a day of strenuous physical effort, the rest exemplified by Frodo in that scene reminds me that return often provides us with what we sought on our trip but may have found only in bits and pieces, true re-creation.
Like most of us, I somehow doubt that Frodo ever anticipated this moment at the time Gandalf first wandered into Hobbiton way back in the first movie. That’s the way it is for us as well: When we leave for a trip, all we can envision at the time is the journey before us. But it’s nice to know that if we travel well, at the end of that journey lies not only return and rest, but completion.
At least for a moment. For in the movie, as in life, the story goes on. So the sense of rejuvenation and closure we achieve on return isn’t permanent but is intended to sustain us through our next adventure and to give us a taste of what true rest looks like when one day we too make our final trip into the West and come face to face with the Source of all peace and rest.