Tauriel and the Love Interest Trap

The_Hobbit_-_Evangeline_Lilly_on_Tauriel_in_Battle_of_Five_Armies Well, that was a disappointment.

Over the weekend, I finally watched The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, and I was particularly intrigued to see where Tauriel's storyline would go. As Tauriel was invented entirely for the movie franchise, the writers had complete freedom in building her character and her place in Middle Earth, and although her subplot with Kili in The Desolation of Smaug was too insta-love for my tastes, she also had a lot of potential as a character.

Unfortunately, all of that was abandoned in The Battle of the Five Armies. In the third Hobbit movie, Tauriel is reduced to just a love interest, although one that everyone pretends is something more.

I want to be clear: no female character is weaker or less worthwhile because she has a love interest. It's not anti-feminist for a female character to fall in love, and the suggestion that it is only furthers the idea that Strong Female Characters should not express softer human emotions.

But it is a problem when the love story is a female character's ONLY plot point, and that is what happened with Tauriel here.

Tauriel is, initially, a really fun character. She's a badass warrior elf in a position of authority who fights for what she believes is right. She's a skilled fighter, she has that elvish ability to defy the laws of physics, and she has a somewhat complicated relationship with her commander/king that adds depth to her character. But as the movies continue, all her potential is thrown aside.

In Battle of the Five Armies, Tauriel gets more lines than many other characters, but she doesn't have much of a character left to express in them. Although she does help the people of Laketown when Smaug attacks, and there's some vague plot about her being exiled from Mirkwood, her role in Battle of the Five Armies is mostly to be in love with Kili. To run to him and try and save him. To get knocked down and nearly killed so that he can heroically try to save her and die in the process. To then be rescued by the other part of her love triangle, Legolas. And to cry about how painful love is, and to reassured by Thranduil that her love was real.

The inclusion of a romantic plotline for Tauriel is not automatically a bad thing. It's dangerous ground for a writer to tread, because none of the other characters have romantic plotlines, but it could have been successful, if 1) it was well developed and made sense for her character, and 2) it was just one facet of her character. If the movie had presented Tauriel as a character first and foremost, and presented her romantic plotline as a secondary aspect, then the writers could have squeezed in their romance without any problems. But every other aspect of her character seemed to vanish in the face of True Love.

And reducing Tauriel to a pure love interest (albeit one who can fight) has worrying implications for the movie as a whole, because it completely subverts the message that her inclusion original presented. She no longer says that fantasy movies can't exist without interesting and relevant female characters, or creates a successful, badass female characters for young viewers to look up to. Instead, we get the suggestion that she was created just to allow for a romantic subplot, possibly to keep those same young female viewers interested through all those battles and dragons and other things girls couldn't possibly care to see. And that's an insulting suggestion not just relating to female characters, but to LGBT ones as well. If the movie needed explicit romance, they might as well have created a romantic subplot between two of the dwarves. A female character didn't need to be created for the explicit purpose of adding romance and crying over Kili's inevitable corpse.

Interestingly, Kili and Tauriel are equal victims in this, as Kili similarly seems to lose all other connections or goals beyond Tauriel, suggesting this is the result of lazy writing, not female character stereotyping. But this doesn't erase the implications of Tauriel's plot arc, especially since this failure is far more damaging in Tauriel's case than Kili's. We get to see many other dwarves and other male heroes in The Battle of the Five Armies, and to see one reduced to one part of a love triangle is surprising. But when it comes to female heroes, we only see Galadriel, and, although she is clearly powerful, her role is detached from the main action and about five minutes long. We're used to seeing either no female characters in fantasy, or just seeing them as love interests. So what does Tauriel's plot arc say about the role female characters play in fantasy? At first, it looked like it was saying that female characters could be heroes too. Now, with Tauriel falling desperately in love with Kili after one conversation and not doing anything unrelated to him once that happens, her inclusion simply screams: "We need a love interest, quick, add a female character!"

And to be honest, she didn't need any complicated plotlines or well-thought-out emotional arcs to overcome that. Most of the other characters in this movie didn't have those things. She really just needed to do some backflips and make some impossible arrow shots. Something that kept her as cool as the other named elves and maintained the skill and personality we saw when she first appeared.

It's not difficult to create a female character who goes beyond a love interest. Just write her like you would any other character, whatever the standard in that story may be. And Tauriel's creation was a step in the right direction. But like many things in The Hobbit franchise, potential was thrown aside by lazy writing and well-worn tropes. In most contexts, that's frustrating. But when the writers of The Hobbit had a chance to write an exciting new female character into an iconic fantasy world almost completely devoid of women, and they messed that up? "Disappointing" doesn't quite cover it in the end.