The tragedy of Denethor, the last steward of Gondor in Lord of the Rings, is a truly despairing one. Back when Sauron’s army was marching towards the fortresses of Gondor, Denethor was feasting on a sumptuous banquet of food within the capital city of Minas Tirith, seemingly impervious to the calamity befalling Men, as he requested Pippin the hobbit to sing him a merry song. These scenes of Denethor fervently and noisily stuffing his mouth with chicken, grapes, bread and yes, cherry tomatoes were interspersed with that of the armoured soldiers of his very son, Faramir, senselessly charging into battle to defend Western Osgiliath on his father’s command—a severe tactical failure that would almost cost Faramir his life.
Fans of Lord of the Rings would know that the purpose of this ugly scene: to juxtapose the sights of Faramir’s impending doom and Denethor’s repugnant feasting which, at the same time, points to his own wilful hopelessness and grief over the death of his first son Boromir. But then there’s that one scene that has since seared itself into our collective minds: him chomping on that goddamn cherry tomato till its juices spurt off-camera, while the insides dribble down his chin, along with the maddening, moist sounds of the tomato bursting in his still-gaping mouth.
Here, enjoy a ten hours cut of Denethor chowing down on this tomato:
LOTR fans were understandably disturbed by this scene. “Goddamn scene ruined cherry tomatoes for me”, wrote one Redditor. Denethor, too, has also become a phrase on Urban Dictionary, which is defined as “to eat something as noisily and messily as possible. For best effect, it must be something juicy so it can spray everywhere”, like “"I'm so hungry! I'ma go Denethor a hamburger!" There’s even a Lord of the Rings ASMR titled “Denethor Mukbang”, which is a lot more gross than appetising (for maximum effect, however, put on some headphones and listen to the gentle, wet sounds of the chewing).
But how was this bloody scene orchestrated in the first place? John Noble, the Australian actor for Denethor, gave some insight in an interview with House of Geekery, where he shared his thoughts on the tragic figure and the feasting scene. According to him, the scene was “a wonderful accident” (wonderful being absolutely subjective, of course). What happened was that director Peter Jackson was watching Noble munch on these delicacies as part of his rehearsals, and for the sake of continuity, Noble had to make sure that there’s a sort of rhythm to the way he ate the food. Jackson got notably excited with the cherry tomato bit, and that was how the scene made its appearance.
“So I’m sitting there thinking, ‘ok…with this food I’m going to go 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…1, 2, 3, 4, 5…’, so I could repeat it, the timing would be perfect. Jackson must’ve been watching through the monitors and he saw me squirt something out of the side of my mouth. He got terribly excited! He ran on to the set and said, ‘mate, what you just did there?” ” What was that, mate?” “When you squirted…can you do that?’ I said ‘yes’. ‘Can you go like hmff?’ I go, ‘yes’. He got terribly excited and waddled away again. That’s how that actually came about, because he was watching me rehearse to try and get my continuity right,” said Noble.
In the same interview, Noble also mentioned that this was one of Denethor’s lowest points, as he became an “obsessive man” who has “just sent his own son to certain death”. “You’d have to be to eat that way to be in the state he was. Incredibly obsessive and that’s what that was—obsessive eating,” he added.
There were also some discussions about the effects of eating tomatoes from a pewter plate, which contributed to Denethor’s descent into madness. In short, this theory explained that since he probably suffered from lead poisoning due to the potent mix of the tomato’s acidic juices with the lead in the pewter. But according to the books, Denethor’s despair is most probably due to his frequent use of the palantir, a spherical object most notably used by the fallen wizard Saruman, used to communicate and share information visually, much like a modern-day Zoom call. It was through the palantir that Denethor could see visions of death and despair as manipulated by Sauron. So, probably not the tomatoes, but at least we now understand why this tomato scene is now etched in the annals of pop culture.
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