SARUMAN: The old world will burn in the fires of industry; the forests will fall; a new order will rise. We will drive the machine of war with the sword and the spear and the iron fists of the orc. We have only to remove those who oppose us.
The old world burning may be a metaphor for change, but it's also totally literal. Saruman is using the trees of Fangorn to fuel his industry of war. "Industry," and "war": two words that we'll need to watch out for as the movie progresses.
PIPPIN: And whose side are you on?
TREEBEARD: Side? I am on nobody's side because nobody's on my side, little orc. Nobody cares for the woods anymore.
Elves and wizards used to walk through Fangorn and speak with the ents, but in the third age they are forgotten, or worse, people are frightened of them. When Aragorn finds that Merry and Pippin have fled into the forest, Gimli asks what madness could have driven them in there. To be fair, these giant talking tree people can be a bit scary.
TREEBEARD: Sounds like orc mischief to me. They come with fire; they come with axes: gnawing, biting, breaking, hacking, burning! Destroyers and usurpers, curse them!
Mischief sounds like an understatement. The orcs are completely destroying the forest and its inhabitants. Saruman keeps talking about the dawn of a new era as his orcs begin to usurp the rightful place of other species that once inhabited Middle-earth.
WORMTONGUE: How? How can fire undo stone? What kind of device could bring down the wall?
Wormtongue cannot fathom the basic explosive science that Saruman has devised. To him, and to most of Middle-earth (maybe with the exception of the dwarves), Saruman's black powder is more like black magic he has conjured up. But it is merely an advancement in technology, one which will bring about the destruction of the world as we know it.
TREEBEARD: There is always smoke rising from Isengard these days… there was a time when Saruman would walk in my woods. But now he has a mind of metal and wheels. He no longer cares for growing things.
Saruman's iron works are the antithesis of thinks that grow. Growing things are living and provide life to the world and their ecosystems. But metal is cold and detached. It only serves to end lives.
THÉODEN: They will break upon this fortress like water on rock. Saruman's hordes will pillage and burn.
Théoden is using this natural imagery to illustrate how strong his defenses are. Helm's Deep has the permanence of a rock that cannot be altered. But maybe he'd rethink this analogy if he was about to happen to Isengard.
The ents break the dam holding back the Angren River, releasing it upon Isengard where it floods Saruman's war-making machinery, toppling and crushing it.
In the end, Saruman's "fires of industry" are quenched by the forces of nature. The natural world will stand the test of time as the schemes of men and wizards are lost and forgotten, at least until Sauron burns a hole in the Ozone.
FRODO: What food have we got left?
SAM: Let me see. Oh, yes, lovely—lembas bread. And look, more lembas bread. [Taking a bite of the bread.] I don't usually hold with foreign food but this Elvish stuff, it's not bad.
FRODO: Nothing ever dampens your spirits, does it, Sam?
How do you keep going in a barren, rocky place like Emyn Muil when you're lost and have had nothing to eat but dry bread for days or weeks? It's all about attitude. It's hard to dampen Sam's spirits. He can always find some good in their situation, even when their journey is at its bleakest.
ÉOMER: Look for your friends, but do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands.
Don't blame Éomer; he has a reason to abandon all optimism. After being thrown from Edoras by Wormtongue, he's roaming the land, taking out his anger on the orcs. But if there's one thing that The Two Towers has to teach us, it's that hope is a hero's most valuable resource.
ELROND: He is not coming back. Why do you linger here when there is no hope?
ARWEN: There is still hope.
Arwen and Elrond are talking about two different kinds of hope. Arwen believes that men and elves may still prevail against the dark lord; Elrond doubts this but when he sends troops to Helm's Deep we see he still has some faith left. But the hope Elrond speaks of is the hope for her future with Aragorn. Even if he survives the war, she will live forever and he will die a mortal man. This is just the fact of their beings. Sometimes hope and reality don't match up.
LEGOLAS: Look at them. They're frightened. I can see it in their eyes. Boe a hyn: neled herain dan caer menig! [And they should be; three hundred against ten thousand!]
ARAGORN: Si beriathar hyn ammaeg na ned Edoras. [They have more hope of defending themselves here than at Edoras.]
LEGOLAS: Aragorn, nedin dagor hen ú-'erir ortheri. Natha daged dhaer! [Aragorn, they cannot win this fight. They are all going to die!]
ARAGORN: Then I shall die as one of them!
The difference between Aragorn and Legolas isn't hope, it's acceptance of what will come to pass. Legolas despairs, unable to cope with the fact that all of these people, too old or too young to be real soldiers, are headed to their deaths. But Aragorn, knowing they have no choice, is prepared to go to his death as well. It's not that he has hope for victory, but he understands that losing faith at such a dire time will do them no good.
ARAGORN: What is your name?
HALETH: Haleth, son of Hama, my lord. The men are saying we will not live out the night. They say that it is hopeless.
ARAGORN: [He swings Haleth's sword and hands it back to him. This is a good sword Haleth, son of Hama. There is always hope.
Hope in The Two Towers doesn't seem to be about the likelihood of a particular outcome. Aragorn isn't saying, "Hey, we got this, don't sweat it." Instead, hope is a mindset. It's about courage in oneself and faith in your companions. That's why there is always hope, even in the bleakest of moments.
LEGOLAS: We have trusted you this far; you have not led us astray. Forgive me, I was wrong to despair.
Finally Legolas comes around. Notice, he doesn't say, "I decided we totally have a chance with three hundred young boys and old men against ten thousand creatures bred for sole purpose of killing all of us." His hope isn't in the odds; it's in Aragorn, his friend and leader.
GANDALF: The battle for Helm's Deep is over. The battle for Middle-earth is about to begin. All our hopes now lie with two little Hobbits, somewhere in the wilderness.
Gandalf knows that the war against Sauron cannot be won. They prevailed at Helm's Deep, but eventually Sauron will overpower them. They fight only to hold off Sauron until the Ring can be destroyed. All of this fighting, all of this death, it will only matter if the hobbits manage to get the Ring to Mount Doom. Unlikely might be an understatement.
SARUMAN: The world is changing. Who now has the strength to stand against the armies of Isengard and Mordor? To stand against the might of Sauron and Saruman, and the union of the two towers? Together, my Lord Sauron, we shall rule this Middle-earth.
At the base of the war is the desire for power, for control, for total dominance of an entire continent. There are few political intricacies, this is simply Saruman and Sauron's war of aggression, to take Middle-earth for their own.
As Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas come to the pile of smoldering orc bodies, the camera first gives us a close up on an orc head skewered on a pike.
We know that the orcs are savage beasts, but this is a little taste of the violence of men. The focus on the head shows the Rohirrim's intent to display their brutal handiwork, and we realize that just because they're "good guys" doesn't mean they're asking for surrender and taking prisoners.
GANDALF: Through fire and water, from the lowest dungeon to the highest peak, I fought with the Balrog of Morgoth. Until at last I threw down my enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountainside.
Gandalf's ascension from Gray Wizard to White Wizard isn't accomplished through good deeds or passing the Wizard test; this isn't Harry Potter. Gandalf must fight and defeat a Balrog, his journey through this test commensurate to his journey through Middle-earth; it is one of violence and war. Even the traditions of Wizards are steeped in warfare, which makes sense as this history of Middle-earth is about with conflict.
THÉODEN: I know what it is you want of me, but I will not bring further death to my people. I will not risk open war.
ARAGORN: Open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not.
War is not a choice in Middle-earth; it is a means of survival. Théoden thinks he can save his people by retreating, but Aragorn and Gandalf want him to face the enemy head on. Neither seems like a great idea, but a choice must be made.
TREEBEARD: War? Yes, it affects us all: tree, root, and twig.
No one is left unaffected by the great war that Saruman and Sauron are waging. Treebeard understands this, we just hope that the nations of men and elves can get their act together and start helping each other fight the enemy.
THÉODEN: Yes, yes, the horn of Helm Hammerhand shall sound in the Deep one last time. Let this be the hour when we draw swords together. Fell deeds, awake. Now for wrath, now for ruin, and a red dawn. Forth Eorlingas!
Impassioned by Aragorn's plea for a final charge, Théoden issues this war cry as he charges out into the battle for a final push, sure that he is going to his death. And these words shouldn't be taken lightly: wrath, ruin, and red dawn? These are violent words. Théoden isn't shouting "for the defense of the women and children." He pumps the blood of his soldiers with a cry for orc blood. So maybe it'll be a black dawn.
FARMIR: [Going to the corpse of a dead Easterling and kicking it.] The enemy? His sense of duty was no less than yours, I deem. You wonder what his name is, where he came from, and if he was really evil at heart; what lies or threats led him on this long march from home; if he would not rather have stayed there, in peace. War will make corpses of us all.
It's easy for us to look at the orcs as unthinking beasts of pure evil. We can hate them and not care if they die. But Faramir pulls us back to reality. He tells Frodo and Sam that the journey of this single dead Easterling is completely unknown to them. Is he really that much different from any man in Middle-earth fighting against Sauron's army? When two soldiers lie dead next to each other on the field of battle, any idea of sides of good and evil seems irrelevant.
WILDMAN: We will fight for you.
SARUMAN: Swear it. [A close up of the greedy smile that takes over his face. He looks on with immense satisfaction as the wildman cuts open the palm of his hand with a dagger.]
WILDMAN: We will die for Saruman.
SARUMAN: The horse-men took your lands; they drove your people into the hills to scratch a living off rocks. Take back the lands they stole from you. Burn every village!
Go back and just look at the disgusting smile that Saruman has as the Wildman cuts his hand. He's obsessed with the power he has over people, he needs it and he wants more. But this isn't some spell he places over them; it sounds like the wildmen have reason for discontent. Saruman is simply using the deeds of Rohan's past against them.
ORC: [Staring hungrily at the juicy hobbits.] Just a mouthful, a bit of the flank.
URUK-HAI LEADER: [He cuts off the head of the Orc to stop him from harming the hobbits.] Looks like meat's back on the menu, boys.
Well, there's not a whole lot of loyalty amongst the orcs. Men and elves are very concerned with traditions regarding death, but the orcs don't have a problem with pounding down flesh of their own kin when it's available.
PIPPIN: And whose side are you on?
TREEBEARD: Side? I am on nobody's side because nobody's on my side, little orc. Nobody cares for the woods anymore.
Loyalty is a reciprocal thing. Pippin expects the ents to have some stake in the war, but Treebeard doesn't see why he should care for the world of men and elves when they haven't cared for the trees.
GOLLUM: It tries to chokes us! We can't eats Hobbit food! We must starve!
SAM: Well starve then, and good riddance!
GOLLUM: Oh, cruel Hobbit. It does not care if we be hungry, does not care if we should die. Not like master; master cares; master knows. Yes, Precious. Once it takes hold of us it never lets go.
Frodo has earned Gollum's loyalty by caring about him. But why does Frodo care? Gollum seems to know the genesis of Frodo's empathy better than Frodo does. It's the Ring. Gollum and Frodo have both been taken hold of by "the Precious," although we'd hardly call their obsession with it loyalty.
GANDALF: Do not regret your decision to leave him. Frodo must finish this task alone.
ARAGORN: He's not alone. Sam went with him.
GANDALF: Did he? Did he, indeed? Good, yes, very good.
Gandalf is very pleased by the news that Frodo has a companion. Gandalf was the one who made Sam accompany Frodo in the first place and knows how loyal he is to Frodo. This close bond between the two hobbits is going to be more and more important as Frodo is pulled deeper into the lonely hold of the Ring.
GOLLUM: There's another way, more secret. A dark way.
SAM: Why haven't you spoken of this before?
GOLLUM: Because master did not ask.
SAM: He's up to something.
FRODO: Are you saying there's another way into Mordor?
GOLLUM: Yes. There's a path, and some stairs, and then… a tunnel. FRODO: He's led us this far, Sam.
SAM: Mr. Frodo, no.
FRODO: He's been true to his word.
FRODO: Lead the way, Sméagol.
GOLLUM: Good Sméagol always helps.
There are so many things at play here. First, we have Sam questioning Sméagol's loyalty to Frodo in contention with his loyalty to the Ring (it is a bit suspicious that Sméagol hasn't mentioned this alternate route). Then we have Frodo deciding to trust Sméagol based on the fact that he's been loyal so far. In doing this, Frodo ignores Sam's counsel and seems to be himself more loyal to Sméagol than to Sam. But is Sméagol really trying to help, or has he already developed a plan to bring them to her? And what about Frodo? Is he delaying his venture into Mordor because he has grown fonder of the Ring? His loyalty is still to his mission and the fellowship and all of the free world, right?
ARAGORN: Dolen i vâd o nin. [My path is hidden from me.]
ARWEN: Si peliannen i vâd na dail lîn. Si boe ú-dhannathach. [It is already laid before your feet. You cannot falter now.]
ARWEN: Ae ú-esteliach nad estelio han. Estelio ammen. [If you trust nothing else, trust this, trust us.] […]
ARAGORN: Ú-ethelithon.[I will not be coming back.] …Edra le men, men na guil edwen. Haer o auth a nîr a naeth. [You have a chance for another life. Away from war, grief, despair.] …I am mortal. You are Elf-kind. It was a dream, Arwen. Nothing more.
This is all part of Aragorn's flashback. At first we see him doubt his way, his purpose, and Arwen tells him that, if he cannot trust anything else, he can trust their love of each other. But then we flash to before Aragorn's departure, after Elrond has convinced him to forsake Arwen for her own good. Is Aragorn more loyal to Elrond than Arwen? Is this a sacrifice he makes for Arwen? In what can Aragorn now trust if he removes himself from her? Loyalty to a person and that person's desires don't always match up.