As Sir John Dalberg-Acton remarked, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” There’s nothing more powerful in Middle-Earth than the one true ring and its corrosive power not only leads people to ruin and war, it can twist their bodies and minds into dark reflections of their greed and lust.
Just take a look at poor Smeagol, the once righteous hobbit who devolved into the inhuman Gollum, all because of his encounter with the ring. During his journey shepherding Frodo and Sam on their quest to destroy the ring – which is an elaborate ruse to secure it for himself – he alternates between his dark and light states, appearing a helpful guide one minute and a grotesque, well, Gollum the next. It’s only Frodo’s trusty companion Sam who sees through Smeagol’s child-like innocence to the festering madness beneath, and their battle for Frodo’s favour created one of the most memorable on-screen rivalries in early 2000s cinema.
Part of what makes Smeagol such a memorable character is the groundbreaking performance from Andy Serkis, who proved himself so adapt at bring characters to life through motion capture, he went on to make fashion an award-winning career out playing creatures in features including the <i>Planet of the Apes</i> series. By effortlessly switching between Smeagol and Golem in the same scenes and even sentences, Serkis’ inspired performance became one of the highlights of a blockbuster franchise that won 17 out of 30 Academy Awards and is considered one of the most influential of all time. Good thing he didn’t listen to another actor who told him not to take the role.
With ‘My precious’, Serkis uses two words to embody the evil simmering beneath Smeagol’s innocence. The long drawn out ‘my’ draws you deep into Gollum’s obsessive desire and the malicious hiss he drags back up, through his sharpened teeth, slithers over the consonants in ‘precious’, revealing the true face of this power-mad creature. It’s so simple, but Serkis’ performance is anything but, and it resonated with audiences around the world. In the mid-2000s, it was impossible to escape Gollum impersonations and parodies, and today the memes continue like the Lord of the Rings’ unwillingness to leave screens.
Seasame Street’s Cookie monster has been imagined as obsessed with cookies as Gollum is with the ring, the Big Bang theory turned Sheldon into Gollum in one episode, and just about every animated TV show has riffed on it at one point, including The Simpsons, South Park and American Dad. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the line often appeared on memes about toilet paperas people panic bought rolls before lockdowns.
– Matt Millikan