Serious concerns with the "stew scene"
Alright, don't get me wrong; I love the LoTR trilogy and think they're fantastic movies. I've watched the trilogy countless times and with each viewing I notice something that I missed before. Most often, these are subtle flaws which give me pause and make me question what exactly the filmmakers were thinking. Would I call it nitpicking? Yes. And usually, if I have any trouble with an inconsistency or two, the scene where Legolas surfs down a flight of stairs on a shield (with fanfare blaring, no less) snaps me out of it and makes me realize, "Oh right, it's a movie. It doesn't need to make sense all the time." Nonetheless, on my last viewing of the Two Towers, the very foundation on which the trilogy stood was shaken, and not even Legolas surfing could absolve my doubts. Countless questions arose and there were no answers to be found.
*sigh*... I am, of course, referring to the "stew scene" in the Two Towers Extended.
To those of you who aren't familiar with this scene, it's where Eowyn (Miranda Otto) brings Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) a bowl of stew. Clearly, the stew is terrible, as Aragorn gives off the distinct expression of a man who just got kicked in the nuts after he takes a bite. It's apparently so bad, he tries to dump it on the ground when Eowyn isn't looking and burns his hand when she suddenly looks back. And then he explains about being a Dunedin and yadda, yadda, yadda... let's get back to the stew.
I get what this scene was trying to accomplish. The strong, independant woman who can't cook to save her life is a classic sitcom/movie trope. It's kind of like an episode of Three's Company where Chrissy or whoever goes to cooking school and Jack Tripper has to pretend her food doesn't taste like *beep* It's intended to be comedic relief, I get that. I really do. However, while it's amusing in passing and a seemingly benign scene, when subjected to close examination, it drastically alters your perception of these characters in such a way that there is no viewing LoTR without thinking about the stew. And trust me, there are no answers-- only more questions.
First, and foremost, the question that will first arise when you break this scene down: HOW THE HELL DO YOU *beep* UP A STEW? You have to actively try to make stew bad. I can barely make macaroni and cheese, but I can still toss some vegetables into broth and make a stew that your body won't reject. Perhaps not the greatest stew you've ever had, but if you were given the choice between a bottle of ipecac and a bowl of my stew, you'd grab a spoon and dig in.
No, you'd have to be completely brain-dead to make a stew so god-awful that it gets the reaction Aragorn gives in this movie. Or you'd have to be trying to make terrible stew. So is Eowyn so stupid that she manages to mess up stew? Nothing in her character up to this point or afterwards indicates this. Would she deliberately make bad stew and give it to Aragorn? Again, no, she's in love with him at that point, so she'd have no reason to do so.
So let's say she's not stupid, and she didn't plot to make terrible stew. What then? Let's postulate that she, as a sword-maiden or shield-bearer or whatever, never catered a meal before in her life, but tried her hand at cooking to impress Aragorn. THEN WHY DIDN'T SHE TASTE IT FIRST? This is stew we're talking about, not a cake or a quiche. You can taste a bit of it without ruining the presentation. Furthermore, she's trying to impress this guy. You'd think she'd want to give him a meal that was fit for a dog, at the very least.
So maybe she tasted it, realized it was awful, and gave it to him anyway because she was already committed to the stew she made? That's like dropping the anniversary card you bought for your wife in cow *beep* and giving it to her anyway because you already paid for it. Or did she not taste it at all? Again, it's stew. If I was making stew for some friends or a girl I was trying to impress, I'd at least taste a bit to make sure my throat wasn't going to close up. Did she delude herself into thinking the stew wasn't really that bad? Considering Aragorn's reaction, she'd have to be certifiably insane to stoop to that level of self-deception. Perhaps she's never actually eaten food, and therefore doesn't know what's good or bad? Well, if she were played by Calista Flockhart there could be an argument made for that, but I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she has the normal bodily needs and functions of a human being. No, none of these possibilities-- stupid, insane, intentionally bad stew-maker, non-eater-- fit Eowyn's character.
This got me to thinking (by this point the battle scene with the Worg Riders was going on), perhaps she has no sense of taste or smell. Well, the movie doesn't address that. She never smells any flowers, recoils from a stench, or does anything that would indicate or exclude the ability to smell to my recollection. This is a distinct possibility, but it alters the character drastically, and if that were the case you'd think the filmmakers would have a addressed it or mentioned it in passing. It's not as if she was blind or deaf, but it would alter my perception of the character knowing she could not smell or taste. Regardless, there is no indication of this being the case, so the viewer is forced to find other avenues for a solution to the "stew" question.
So maybe the stew wasn't that bad. Maybe Aragorn is just a picky eater. But NO, that doesn't make sense either-- HE'S A FREAKING RANGER! He's the Middle Earth's equivalent of a survivalist. You're telling me this guy who has probably eaten bugs to survive cringes at the prospect of taking another bite of this stew? My God, how bad could it possibly be? What did she put in it, dog feces? But no, we know it's not just Aragorn because Gimli takes a whiff of the stew earlier in the scene and passes on it. Gimli. The same Gimli who licks his chops at the prospect of salted pork drenched in reservoir water. EVEN GIMLI THINKS THIS STEW IS TERRIBLE!
At this point, I couldn't even focus on the movie-- when Gimli breaks the news of Aragorn's apparent death to Eowyn, all I could think was: "Yeah, but what about the stew?" Everything came back to the questions the "stew scene" raised. I'd even go so far as to say that the stew became the most enigmatic character in this movie. Could it really be that bad? What was in it? Was that a potato or a dumpling he put into his mouth? Was the broth bad, or was it just the chunk Aragorn ate? Were the utensils to blame and not the stew itself? What would Gollum's reaction have been to the stew? Are there any other scenes I missed that try to make sense of this stew, that put things back in perspective? Questions, questions, questions... and not an answer in sight.
After Aragorn comes back to Helm's Deep, there's a scene where Eowyn is lying on a couch and they have a bit of dialogue with each other. This struck me as a missed opportunity to resolve the questions surrounding the stew. Maybe she could have asked if he wanted some stew, and he could have paused and asked her recipe, and THEN I'D KNOW IF THE STEW WAS REALLY BAD ENOUGH TO CAUSE A MAN WHO POSSIBLY EATS INSECTS TO PHYSICALLY REJECT IT! Nothing. Not one mention of the stew.
In fact, this was the second of two stew scenes in the extended edition of Two Towers, the first where Sam makes stew out of the rabbits Gollum brings him and Frodo. It seems like they were trying to set up a stew-based subplot, but Eowyn's stew was so terrible, so heinous, that all stew as we knew it disappeared from Middle Earth. Yes, I've checked. After the stew-heavy middle of Two Towers Extended, stew is never referenced, mentioned, or shown again. All questions surrounding this stew are left unresolved and the viewer who dares to ponder the stew is left sadly unsatisfied.
I simply cannot see the movies in the same light anymore. It all comes back to questions about the stew. I've played the scene in slow-motion, reverse, and set it on endless loop to try to gauge the characters' reactions to make some light of this scene and its ramifications on the plot and characters, and still, nothing. Only more questions which the rest of the movie stalwartly refuses to answer.