I grew up in a tradition that was steeped in allegory and symbolism. It taught me that a point can often be better illustrated through fictional characters, parables or stories than simple explanations. This has led me to a deeper understanding of perplexing subjects, including the complexities of suicide.
Ending your own life doesn’t make sense at first glance. For those who are left behind, it can be confusing. Harrowing questions linger. What was going on in that mind? How does someone get to that point?
No one can know for certain what your loved one was thinking when they died. But speaking as someone who has tried and failed, I believe I can come within the ballpark. The following allegory isn’t perfect and doesn’t include every circumstance surrounding every suicide. It’s been a great tool for me to work through my thoughts as a survivor, especially in reconciling the relationship between my mental illness and how my thoughts led me to want to die.
Setting The Scene
(This exploration uses the New Line Cinema version of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I’ll piece dialogue throughout the film. I recommend watching it before proceeding, but I’ll recap here. If you’ve seen it, skip to the next section.)
Near the end of the film, Boromir, a strong warrior, is separated from his allies. He leaves the group to follow Frodo into the woods. Frodo carries an evil, enchanted ring;, an object that puts thoughts into people’s minds and drives them insane. Boromir is lured by the temptation to seize the ring and gain power. In his haste, he forgets his shield.
Boromir tries to take the ring and is foiled. He begins to come to his senses. Meanwhile, Aragorn, the leader of the troop, finds Frodo. Aragorn resists the power of the ring and lets Frodo go – just in time for an enemy army to arrive.
Swarms of monsters (called Uruk Hai) descend upon Aragorn, who is quickly joined by most of his friends. Two members of the group see Frodo trying to escape and draw the Uruk Hai away from him. Boromir steps in as these two are about to be overwhelmed.
Boromir fights enemy after enemy. He blows his horn to summon the rest of the fellowship. Aragorn and the others rush to him, having to slay Uruk Hai all the way to get to him.
In the fight, Boromir, an Uruk Hai named Lurtz fires three arrows into his torso, mortally wounding him. The friends he was protecting are kidnapped. Aragorn and the others show up to save Boromir from a beheading, but Boromir soon dies anyway.
The Mind of Boromir
If you depart from the narrative and reimagine Boromir’s death as a suicide, certain symbolism emerges.
The One Ring in this case is a mental illness. Throughout the film, it puts thoughts in characters’ heads that are not their own. These thoughts are lies, and tell a narrative that is different from reality.
When your mind sees reality falsely, irrational choices become rational. Illogical ideas suddenly seem more logical. Choosing death is on par with choosing life.
The Ring frequently planted thoughts in Boromir’s mind through the film. It is a deceiver. These thoughts drove him to leave the safety of his friends (who could be considered family as well). It brings down his defenses – like his shield.
The shield represents the defenses of a healthy mind. A mind with a shield can resist strong emotions, sad events and lingering negative thoughts. Triggers, stress and circumstances are deflected more easily with a shield. Depression and anxiety naturally lower those defenses, making small things large and large things larger. As a person with bipolar disorder, I have to be careful to limit or mitigate stress that would normally not bother others. My shield is frequently down. If I’m not on my guard, I’ll plunge into a dark place quickly. I don’t believe this is the experience of people with less constant sorrow, though no one is truly immune from emotional blows.
So Boromir left his shield, his support group and his rationality because he was tricked by a shadowy force. This sets the scene for his fall.
We see Aragorn come under attack first. Here he is a mentally healthy person. He is not fooled by the ring, and is not caught off guard in this psychological assault.
The Uruk Hai embody dark thoughts. They are the thoughts that make you doubt yourself. They’ are the ideas that bring self-loathing and anger. They are sent by the power of the illness – the Ring.
Aragorn holds his own, but is luckily joined by friends who are equally as strong. With the support of others they clear the Uruk Hai around them. These friends are symbolic of real life friends and family who prop up loved ones when they are under attack.
The allies of Aragorn are also just as much the allies of Boromir. An important note here: in my opinion, Boromir was separated from the group by delusional thinking, and not the failure of his loved ones to come to his aid.
Next we see Boromir charging in to save two of his friends. This is a critical idea. Often when I have thought of death, I assumed those I care about would be better off without me. I saw it as a compassionate, helpful act that would actually benefit people in my life.
Boromir here may be signalling that he feels the same way; that the sacrifice of his life will save his friends.
Boromir quickly becomes a prime target for the Uruk Hai. He blows his horn to call for help. This has echoes of suicidal gestures – calls for help when someone is not sure if they want to die. The signs of suicide frequently appear well before the end. In my case, I sold dozens of precious keepsakes, abandoned hobbies and spoke of death more frequently.
Sometimes these calls for help are left unanswered. In Boromir’s case, the rescue party is coming as fast as they can.
Boromir is ultimately struck down, but this time by a unique foe. An Uruk Hai wielding a bow fires several shafts into him as he struggles with the horde of darkness. He is mortally wounded.
Both Aragorn and Boromir were in this battle without shields. But Aragorn did not face arrows.
The arrows are the thoughts of suicide. When the thoughts and storms of life attack someone who is healthy, who is defended, it will lead to sorrow. Life brings pain to us all. Someone whose defenses are down or who is prone to illness, however, will go to a place others do not. They want to die, and they mean to.
One of the most useful kernels of this story is the act of assigning responsibility. I can only imagine the guilt and suffering of those whose loved ones die. Could I have done something? How did I miss this?
Ask and consider the following questions:
Was it Aragorn’s fault for arriving late?
Was it Boromir’s fault for forgetting his shield?
Was it Frodo’s fault for drawing Boromir away from safety?
Or was it Lurtz’s fault for firing the arrows?
I put the lion’s share of the blame on Lurtz, the Uruk Hai who fired the arrows. If he had not been there, Boromir would have lived. Those thoughts of suicide, those doubts creeping in from a mind bursting with negativity… those ultimately did him in.
Could Aragorn have arrived earlier? He arrived as soon as possible. Even the most well-intentioned of us can lose someone to suicide. It is not his fault. He tried.
Could Boromir have brought his shield? Yes, and this could have saved him. Not everyone has their defenses with them or even has some to begin with. With medicine and therapy, people like me can develop those defenses. It is possible to prevent suicide with treatment. It’s not always available or utilized however. And to top it off, the arrows still could have hit him even with his shield ready. It would have been more difficult, but the shield would have bought him critical time.
Was Frodo responsible by drawing him away from the group? We haven’t discussed Frodo yet. He is a trigger, a stressful event that causes someone to experience a strong response. A trigger can undo the strategies set in place to protect your mind, and can lead you to worse thoughts and greater delusions. Financial trouble, romantic upsets and mistakes at work are great examples of triggering events.
Boromir’s triggers brought him away from his shield and toward the Uruk Hai.
My verdict is this: Lurtz was the culprit, Aragorn valiant, Frodo a catalyst and Boromir an overwhelmed, brave warrior who tried his best in the mindset he had.
The Goodbye and the Reveal
As Boromir lay dying, Aragorn rushed to his side. Boromir’s words reveal his conflict.
“Frodo! Where is Frodo?”
Aragorn replies, “I let him go,” to which Boromir laments, “Then you did what I could not.”
Boromir was still lingering on that trigger. He could not let it go. Aragorn could.
Boromir continues. “Forgive me. I did not see.” He recognizes that he was misled. He was deceived by the Ring. He didn’t set out to lose the fight.
Boromir also admits his despair. “It is over. The world of men will fall, and all shall come to darkness and my city to ruin.” Here he expresses how deep his sorrow was, and reveals the sinister parts of the delusion. He believes everything is over. He has nothing left. His city, his power and his purpose are gone. The world of men – his world, his reality – is inescapably crumbling.
In truth, there is evidence to support his claim. But it is not nearly as bad as he believes. There is still plenty of hope left for his world. Boromir has become catastrophic in his thinking. Why would someone go on if everything in his life is doomed, decayed or dead already?
Life never is as bleak as our thoughts might make it out to be. It will inevitably include suffering. It will also inevitably have joy as well.
Finally, after Aragorn assures him he’ll save his city, Boromir receives a glimmer of hope. “I would have followed you my brother, my captain, my king!” He knows somewhere inside that there was an alternative path. In the end it becomes clear. I believe people die by suicide even when they know there are alternatives because suicide appears to be the best path, not the only path. In the back of their minds (and mine) there were a few other ways out. They appeared small and hopeless, courtesy of detachment from reality.
I hope that through this some questions about suicide are answered. The more I look at this story from the perspective of suicide, the more it mirrors my experience. All of those things happened to me – the Uruk Hai, the forgotten shield, the Ring’s words, the pull away from safety.
It may not explain everything. It may not apply to everyone or cover every tragedy. For me, it’s a way to demonstrate what was going on inside, something that is difficult to articulate.
I believe we are drawn to fantasy for precisely this reason. It is not real, but it can illuminate true life in ways unique to fiction. In the triumph of fake heroes we can gain real courage. And in the passing of martyrs that never existed, we can find answers that were always there.