Written for the Period Drama Challenge hosted by Laurie over at Old-Fashioned Charm. ❤
Ladyhawke (1985, PG13)
starring Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Alfred Molina
Just looking at the cover of this movie is making me melt and want to watch it again. And I've already watched it 3 times since the start of 2016! Which, I do admit, is in excess and more than I usually watch it. But I watched the DVD with my family in early January before discovering that it was released on BLU-RAY (can I get an AMEN?!). So I bought the blu-ray, watched it myself, then grabbed my mom and sister and demanded they watch it with me. So I'm halfway 2/3 of the way through it for my 3rd time in under 2 months.
You know those movies that people recommend and you end up either hating or loving? There is no in-between range of emotion? Ladyhawke is one of those. It is undeniably one of the most hauntingly filmed movies I've ever seen, but it's also blessed with one of the absolutely strangest soundtracks that I've ever heard. It makes or breaks the film. You'll see what I mean when I get to that section of this post, but first of all, the plot itself!
❤ The Plot ❤
Ladyhawke is set somewhere in 11th century France, definitely after the Crusades and most assuredly during the feudal system.
Alarm bells in Aquila clang, announcing the escape of a prisoner from the vile dungeons that belong to the Bishop of Aquila (pretty much the spawn of Satan) who also happens to be an outcast from the established Church.
The aforementioned escapee is Phillipe Gaston, played by none other than the so-cute-it-hurts-to-look-at-him Matthew Broderick. It was 1985, OF COURSE HE WAS CUTE!
Running just so far that he feels safe, but definitely not far enough, Phillipe the Mouse pauses to refresh himself at an outdoor tavern (not that I knew they had those in feudal France).
But he can't just eat. Oh no, he must talk too, which leads to the unveiling of the Bishop's soldiers whose very lives are likely on the line if they don't catch the escaped prisoner.
After all, you can't have an escape-proof dungeon if someone has . . . well, escaped. DUH.
Just as a sword is swinging for Phillipe's jugular, an arrow pierces the hand of the sword-holding knight, having been shot by a mysterious man in black *cue dramatic music for Rutger Hauer's entrance*
Navarre, for that is the name of the dramatic man in black, rescues Phillipe, sort of, depending on your point of view.
I'm not sure you or I would consider it rescuing if you were being chased down by an intimidating man in black riding the world's biggest stallion who also happens to be named Goliath.
Phillipe has literally no choice at this point, but he's already noticed things are a bit on the odd side where Navarre is concerned. After all, who keeps a hawk for a pet and Navarre is decidedly attached to his hawk?
Stopping at a cozy stable run by psycho axe-wielding murderers (no, I'm not kidding), the two men, well boy and man, decide to stop for the night, with Navarre fiercely warning Phillipe to not disturb his slumber or he might take his head off without fully realizing it's him. Yeah, that's comforting.
Out collecting firewood, Phillipe determines to make his escape because, as he puts it, "He wants something from me. I can see it in his eyes. Well, whatever it is, I'm not going to do it. I'm still a young man, you know! I've got prospects!"
An enormous mangy wolf puts in an appearance, chasing Phillipe back to the stable where he can't find Navarre, but manages to grab Navarre's crossbow only to have the arrow snatched away before he can fire at the wolf.
And snatched away by none other than a stunning woman with porcelain skin and piercing blue eyes, cloaked all in black. Yes, it's Michelle Pfeiffer and at her most gorgeous.
As Phillipe watches, she joins the wolf outside, and as he's pondering aloud whether he's dreaming, she calls back calmly, "You are dreaming."
Phillipe panics as any practical person would, crawls up into the loft where he watches the woman and the wolf head into the forest together and proceeds to plead with God, who he talks to every single day, "I've not seen what I've just seen. I do not believe what I believe, Lord! If these are magical or unexplainable matters than I beg you not to make me a part of them."
Are you intrigued yet? If you aren't, you absolutely should be because I've only covered maybe 30 minutes of a 2 hour long movie. Trust me, it gets progressively better!
❤ What Makes Ladyhawke Awesome ❤
Many, many movies, too many to count, take themselves too seriously. They have an agenda, a message to be preached, and they forget that you can have fun at the same time that you're sharing the message.
Ladyhawke is NOT that movie.
You've probably already caught on by Phillipe's quotes that the dialogue for this movie is different. Humor abounds! The dialogue is snappy and just plain fun. Ladyhawke is not one of those looooooong, boring period drama. It is alive and breaths life into the audience with the charisma of its actors and the talent of its screenplay writers.
Now I will say there isn't anything wrong with serious period dramas. They certainly have their place and I love many of them. But I love Ladyhawke because it isn't one of those period dramas. I'm sure it helps that Richard Donner directed seeing as he's the man who brought the world the hilarious Lethal Weapon movies as well as Maverick starring Mel Gibson and James Garner. There's a man who doesn't take life too seriously which made him PERFECT to direct Ladyhawke.
❤ The Actors ❤
I'm a Matthew Broderick fan. He's fun and brilliant to watch in so many many different roles, but he was PERFECT as Phillipe. The story really is told from Phillipe's perspective. You are where he is 80% of the time. You see the world through his eyes. They needed a strong lead actor to take on the role, especially one with comedic timing since Phillipe is HILARIOUS and Broderick fits the bill perfectly.
While most fans will admit that Rutger Hauer hasn't aged well, the 80s were very kind to him. Everything about Hauer in Ladyhawke speaks of strength and honor and dignity. He is a courageous man of few words yet in possession of a romantic spirit. Hauer represents the masculine ideal as a complete opposite for Phillipe's obvious lack of masculinity. The two work together symbiotically, but like many stories, this one is told more through the sidekick's eyes (i.e. Phillipe) than through the hero. Navarre remains something of a mystery through the story, just like Isabeau.
And speaking of, Michelle Pfeiffer is a lovely woman. And talented. She is a delight to watch as Isabeau, for that is the name of the lady with the porcelain skin. She is a good match to both Hauer and Broderick, in fact, you see her mostly with Broderick. She provides a stillness and beauty to the film, the rose lightly dusted with frost. Plus she has one of my favorite lines of all time. Phillipe asks her nervously, "Are you flesh? Or are you spirit?" And she murmurs, "I am sorrow." It's such a beautiful moment!
Alfred Molina has a bit part as a wolf hunter. It's funny to see how much he's grown in popularity since his minuscule roles in the 1980s. He's come a long way, but his brief stint in Ladyhawke was still entertaining to watch.
And then you have Leo McKern as Imperius, an old priest, pictured above with Broderick. The man has been around forever, and while I've only seen him in a scant few roles, he left me with a very strong, positive impression of his acting chops. McKern and Broderick were quite the pair, separated by at least 40 years age-wise, they complimented one another's performances so well. It was almost as if they were two sides to the same coin.
❤ The Spiritual Side ❤
Ladyhawke is a story of magical realism awash with spiritual imagery that turns traditional notions on their head.
The knight in black is fairly righteous and the knights in white serve an evil bishop. When was the last time you ever really saw black and white reversed like that? It's stunning imagery and proves that color has nothing to do with the state of a man's soul. He can dress himself in purest white and still possess the blackest heart.
The white knights are just as evil as the man they serve, the Bishop of Aquila. Has anyone watched Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame? The bishop has something in common with the villain of that particular animated film. Professing to be a holy man, the bishop is overcome by the lusts of his eyes and the pride of life until there is nothing of genuine faith left. He will do anything and everything to obtain what he wants, even if it means selling his soul to the devil himself.
While talking with my sister, she raised an interesting point about the bishop. The man's life is caught up in the lives of Navarre and Isabeau. How far does that net extend? What if he has gone so far into darkness that, should anything happen to the hero or heroine, his life would also be forfeit? During a particularly frightening moment in Ladyhawke, the bishop is caught in the throes of a nightmare, twitching and contorting on his bed, as if his very life were in danger. It would be a timely twist if the deal he'd made with evil powers had thrown in a proviso about the bishop's own life.
Then you have Phillipe, a thief and a liar, but he also talks to God all the time, and not in a prayerful way, but in a conversational way, as if he fully knows that God hears every word he says, knows that he'll fail in weakness again, and that God loves him anyway. Phillipe fascinates me because characters like him don't come along very often. God is real to him, more real than most Christians ever imagine. And he never doubts. Even when he's in danger, even when he could die, Phillipe still believes in the grace of God.
We don't know much about Phillipe's past. Is he an orphan? Possibly. He gives two answers on that front. One when he's walking, half-frozen, after escaping Aquila and filling his stomach with memories of cabbage his mother had cooked. And another when Navarre asks him to sneak into Aquila and Phillipe responds, "Not on the life of my mother. Even if I knew who she was!" Which is truth? Neither? An oops on the part of the writers? We don't know, but what we do know is that his faith is unusual. So somewhere in his past, Phillipe was intimately involved with the Church. To know as much as he knows about Scripture, it's the only thing that makes sense.
Phillipe is delightful proof that you don't have to be perfect for God to hear you. Talk to him anyway.
The established church is evil in Ladyhawke. Yet God is still very much at work to free people whose lives have been ruined through no fault of their own, and take down an evil bishop who claims to do his evil deeds in the name of the Lord. I don't mind evil priests or pastors, not all the time, not when it makes sense. This, to me, makes sense. Phillipe lies to give hope to Navarre and Isabeau. He reads between the lines and embellishes, but I see the positive results of those embellishments.
There is far more symbolism to discuss, and I may write about it someday, but I don't want to ruin the story for those who've never seen it by over-sharing. So I'll end my spiritual contemplation here and see if I can wrangle my thoughts together for another post sometime in the future.
❤ The Soundtrack ❤
Remember how I said the soundtrack makes or breaks this movie?
Well, it does.
Do you like 1980s music?
If the answer is yes, then there's hope.
If the answer is no, the hope is a tad fainter.
Borrowing from wikipedia, the soundtrack for Ladyhawke is an "example of 1980s fantasy films abandoning the lush orchestral scores of composers such as John Williams and James Horner in favor of a modern pop/rock sound."
This movie wouldn't be the same without the unique sound. I know there are some viewers who can't stomach the music, but I'm not one of them. Ladyhawke is one of my favorite musical scores simply because it is such an oddity.
❤ Final Thoughts ❤
I can't go into costuming because, quite frankly, there isn't much to go on other than a few brief notables like Navarre's black clothes and the bishop's shining white garb. But overall this isn't your typical costume drama rich with elegant clothing. You can see the rough fibers in most of Phillipe's clothing and I'm willing to bet that Broderick was happy to have a linen shirt on underneath. Isabeau wavers between dresses too big for her or leggings and a tunic. This movie isn't about the clothing. If they'd gone with anything fancier, it would have lost the rich, romantic vibe of the story. The character's clothing is a part of them, no more, no less, and the less you notice it, the more you focus on the story. And that is enough.
Truly, Ladyhawke is one of my favorite films of all time. I look back on the friend who loaned it to us and could just kiss her. I would have never found this movie if it weren't for her.
If you enjoy magical realism, then you're likely going to love Ladyhawke. There are endless paths of discussion for this story, endless possibilities and conjecture, and I literally could go on forever. But sadly, I must stop or this post will grow even longer than I've already made it. Just know that I hope and pray you give Ladyhawke a try. Thirty-one years later from its release date, it's still worth it.
Oh, and BLU-RAY over DVD. Trust me. The DVD lets you watch the movie, yes, but BLU-RAY lets you live it. I was drooling over my blu-ray, it was so darn pretty!
Parental Guidance - No real nudity or language (you do see an injured woman naked under a fur skin, but it's pulled up enough to be mostly modest). But definitely not for little kids. If you wouldn't show Indiana Jones to your children then they're not ready for Ladyhawke. There are plenty of thematic elements, some mild sensuality, and quite a bit of violence, including a wolf mauling a man to death, seen mostly off-screen. Another man gets injured pulling the same wolf out of some ice it has fallen through. Several men are shot with arrows, a hawk is injured, you see bodies that have been hung, there are sword fights and stabbings, etc. In other word, action adventure and PG13 for a reason.