Ladyhawke

Always together. Eternally apart. As long as the sun rises and sets. As long as there is day and night. And for as long as they both shall live.

So goes the curse levied by the Bishop of Aquila upon the woman for whom he obsesses, and the man he seeks to destroy. Based upon a 13th century legend, Ladyhawke is the story of two lovers forced to roam the earth together, the Lady Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer) as a hawk by day, Captain Etienne Navarre (Rutger Hauer) as a black wolf by night.

The story opens with the escape of the little thief, pickpocket, coward, and compulsive liar, known as “the mouse” (Matthew Broderick), from the dungeons of Aquila. Against a ravishing backdrop of European scenery and medieval castles, Philippe “the mouse” Gaston, emerges into a bleak world ravaged by plague, famine, and oppression. As he journeys, pressed by the bishop’s guards, Philippe carries on a monologue with God. Having vowed never to pick a pocket again if allowed to escape, his first act is to cut a soldier’s purse and steal his knife, all the while explaining to God why this is absolutely necessary. Then later, when telling the truth gets him into trouble, Philippe doesn’t hesitate to humbly ask God why He keeps confusing him.

Philippe dawdles at a wayside inn, only to find himself speaking to an audience of the bishop’s men in disguise. The thud of a crossbow bolt introduces Capt. Nevarre, caped and cowled in black, crossbow leveled, riding to the rescue upon a black steed. Making their escape, with the hawk in constant attendance, shadows fall and the sun begins to dip below the horizon. At a peasant’s hovel where they lodge for the night, Philippe is soon confronted by a mysterious lady, caped and cowled in black, with a “face of fine porcelain, deep blue eyes, and a voice like the dulcet tones of an angel.” Nevarre has disappeared, but a huge black wolf preys upon the night. Philippe soon realizes there are forces here he does not understand, and he begs God not to make him a part of it.

As day dawns, he is confronted once again by Capt. Nevarre, who speaks to him of a quest; the quest to kill a man.

“Who is this walking corpse?” asks Philippe.

“The Bishop of Aquila,” the captain replies.

“YOU have much to do,” says Philippe.

But the captain needs a guide to get him into the city. “I have waited almost two years for a sign from God,” he says, “and when I heard the warning bells of Aquila,” (warning of escape), “I knew the time of my destiny had come. You will be my guiding angel.”

“I talk to God all the time,” says the mouse, “and, no offense, but He never mentioned you. You have given me my life, but the truth is, I can never repay you. I have no honor. I never will have.”

Disaster dogs the steps of this unlikely trio as they change course for Aquila; an old monk babbles of a time soon coming — of a day with no night and a night with no day; the bishop’s scarred assassin is killing wolves by the score, hoping to slay the black wolf loved by Isabeau, a love from which there is no escape. “Did you know,” said Navarre, “that wolves and hawks mate for life?” And in the midst of it all, Philippe, the mouse, plays his hesitant role.

“You have stumbled upon a tragic story, Philippe Gaston,” says the old monk. “And now, whether you like it or not, you are lost in it — with the rest of us.” Ladyhawke is the story of a lighthearted, lightfingered craven who must joust with his own fears and follow his heart; it is the story of a hermit monk, once a “weak and foolish priest”, who seeks forgiveness and absolution; it is the story of lovers who risk it all for the right to a life together.

Yes. Ladyhawke is an older film, and as a movie, has its problems. The score is jarring, intrusive, and irritating. Ffeiffer is visual perfection as the Lady Isabeau — it’s just when she opens her mouth that the perfection slips a notch. And there are a few other moments that did not ring true that I can’t expound upon without giving away too much.

But, all in all, as a story of epic heroism — and reluctant heroism — it is a film well worth watching. The plusses far out-weigh the minuses. I bought it.

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