I think it was somewhere in the second hour of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King that I sank down in my seat, pulled my jacket up under my chin and let myself be 12 years old again. Blessedly, I wasn’t there as a movie critic. One of the few benefits of being the second- or third-string guy in the film section is that you don’t always have to take notes; you can go and slouch down in your seat and just be yourself, or, rather, your truest movie self, which isn’t necessarily the exact same person who plays at being an adult in the sunlit world, or the self who takes half-legible notes at other movies, like a beauty-contest judge giving poise and elocution marks. Tonight, I was just a guy who sat down in the fifth row with one of his best pals (I’m lucky to have more than one) at his side, stared hopefully up at the screen and was granted the one thing he needed most in the world — a sense of wonder. And right after that, wonder’s adjunct — joy. Tears too, for balance, and because Frodo and Sam broke my heart (if they don’t nominate Sean Astin, I will lose my mind) and because, for those three hours and 20 minutes, my friend Jordan and I became those two hobbits, linked for all time by hardship and loyalty. Sure enough, afterward, saying goodnight at the car, we swore to each other (quite unnecessarily) that we would always carry one another up Mount Doom. And I drove home happy, because he’s got my back, and because this epic, aching film reminded me that I haven’t seen everything after all; that movies are miraculous; and that within me, still, is the kid who used to pull his legs up under him, to be taller, to see more of the screen, who wondered, “How do they do that?” and at the same time didn’t care, being grateful, simply, that there were shadow makers who knew the trick for taking him out of his body, out of his world. Which felt, then and now, like an act of salvation.

—Chuck Wilson

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