Highlander (1986) – What is it?
Highlander (1986) is an epic fantasy film starring Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery, which was inspired by duelists, the French army, and Stanley Kubrick. Much like Barry Lyndon (1975) by Kubrick, Highlander focuses on a single man who lives through many adventures. Much of Highlander involves fighting, dueling with swords like in The Duellists (1977), but it has its own mythology about immortals and a timeless Game to the death. Apparently, there can be only one. Or something like that.
Forget the sequels, I prefer to think of Connor MacLeod as one of the uniquely chosen, nothing more. He doesn’t know he is immortal until he “dies” in the 1500s. He reacts in the most classic heroic fashion ever written: like he doesn’t know what is happening. He is like an ignorant Odysseus, fighting the good fight as he learns what he has to do in his quest.
The mythology of Highlander is its biggest problem. Where does Connor come from if he’s immortal? Why was he chosen? Who thought of The Game? Who gives the Prize? Who enforces the rules? Why fight it? What’s all this crap mean? None of these questions are answered. Most of the backstory to the film is implied spirituality or a quirk of humanity. I like this explanation. No aliens need apply.
After you get past the unusual nature to this film, you can see how beautiful it is. The parts that take place in the past are great and remind me of Barry Lyndon. The Scottish highlands give the movie color and a vivid appearance. The locations are just great. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a modern and ancient fantasy setting combined like this one.
Highlander was written by Gregory Widen and is filled with his memories of his mother, of the countryside, and of other places. Obviously, he likes Europe, its history, and puts a lot of that into the script. Obviously, he likes to wander around too. The story is like a dream, flashing forward and back, telling personal stories and connecting relationships. The purpose of making Connor into an immortal is to put him in the modern-day as a man-out-of-time, like an English knight from ancient times still alive today. He’s like Captain America, a guy from another era with another set of morals and life-lessons.
Highlander has apt swordfighters and crazy villains. The modern edge to the sword & scorcery genre is almost entirely unique. Like Odysseus, Connor has a mentor, who gives him knowledge. His mentor is Sanchez, played by Sean Connery. It’s the perfect don’t-commit-too-much part for Connery, and his charm works well in the role. They could have made a buddy-film, but his cameo works just as well. Besides, his death makes Kurgan look more evil. Nobody wants Sean Connery to die, after all.
The duels are obviously right out of The Duellists (1977), but Highlander’s crazy villain adds more flavor to spice things up. Kurgan is just the right amount of over-the-top crazy. The guy is just nuts, it’s almost funny. He has this sadistic, barbarian edge to him that makes you think he’ll trash the whole room. Don’t get him drunk, cause he’s gonna cause a lot of property damage.
Overall, the parts with Sean Connery are the best, since he’s the best actor in the film. Christopher Lambert is a little rough, but that fits the character, but the supporting cast is really a benefit to his acting. I like the epic nature of this film and the fantastical elements give it a unique nature. The different time periods give the movie color, and there was this World War II scene I had forgotten was even in the movie. The scenes in the modern day are the best because Lambert plays up his eccentric foreigner part. He smirks at a painting of a Scottish warrior in a kilt, he likes antiques, and he drinks wine. He’s taking Sean Connery lessons, I guess.
All in all, I think this is a pretty good movie. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it has Queen for god’s sake. It must be good. It is romantic and dreamlike, like a man hiking through the English moor in a daze, but thankfully, no werewolves attack.