There can be only one!
Well, that might have been true back in 1986, but Highlander, the movie featuring Christopher Lambert as the immortal Scotsman Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) spawned two other feature films, two separate live action television shows, an anime series, and one television movie.
So what about this movie made it so popular? Was it the idea of immortals existing throughout time, experiencing different cultures and periods? Was it the implied backstory with the arcane rules (there can be only one, no fighting on holy ground)? Or was it the simple fact that watching a swordfight in the modern day turned out to be strangely compelling?
In case you weren’t aware, HIGHLANDER traces Connor MacLeod’s humble beginning as a clan warrior in the highlands of Scotland through the centuries to modern (okay, 1980s) New York. It is in that time and place where there will be The Gathering, where the immortals who exist at that time will gather together until there is only one remaining. The one, of course, will gain The Prize. Yes, the Prize is poorly defined (there is some sense that winning the prize will make the winner mortal and able to have children… but then why the concern over an evil immortal winning it?). Perhaps the nature of the Prize is governed by what the immortal who wins it wants.
All of that is well and good, but what drives the conflict is the personal animosity between Conor MacLeod and the Kurgan, played to the hilt by the inestimable Clancy Brown. The Kurgan has been tracking Connor down through the centuries, and is in fact responsible for the death of Connor’s immortal mentor, Ramirez (Sean Connery), an ancient Egyptian by way of Spain… who just so happened to spend some time in Japan.
What the film does well, despite being an action-film, is addressing some of the deeper concerns over immortality. Connor, despite finding another love interest (or two, or three) throughout the centuries, still remembers and cares about his first wife, and the fact that he was forced to watch her grow old while he retained the same appearance obviously weighed heavily on him. The film also addresses the ways that immortals attempt to blend into society but the movie also makes clear that modern forensics is catching up and is able to expose them… if not explain them. Finally, despite the Gathering and that immortals are destined to fight until only one is left, the idea is explored that some of them at least get along quite well with one another… because they are the only ones that understand the experiences and trials they face.
HIGHLANDER is also noteworthy for having one of the more memorable villains in the Kurgan. Unapologetic, crass, and more than a little mean, he acts as a perfect foil to the more urbane, modern Connor. Connor is a character that has adapted, at least partially, to modern life, while the Kurgan remains a barbarian, caring only for his own needs and seeing the teeming throngs of mortals as beneath him. The movie also does an excellent job of showcasing what kind of threat he is more than once… when he fights and kills Ramirez in Scotland in the first case, and then again when he kills Connor’s friend Kastagir. And who can forget his immortal line: “I have something to say! It’s better to burn out than to fade away!”
With a killer soundtrack by Queen as well, this is a movie you should check out again if it’s been a while… and well, if you’ve never watched it: what are you waiting for?