There Can Be Only One
From the dawn of time we came; moving silently down through the centuries, living many secret lives, struggling to reach the time of the Gathering; when the few who remain will battle to the last. No one has ever known we were among you... until now.
I love history. Ok, so that may be a bit of an overstatement because I don’t love all history. I find reading about or studying anything that happened after 1865 utterly boring but anything before that time, especially U.S history between 1725 to 1820, absolutely fascinating. I think that is why I was so drawn in to the Highlander universe. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live forever?
For those of you who aren’t familiar let me provide you with a very brief synopsis of Highlander. The movie revolves around Connor MacLeod, as portrayed by Christopher Lambert, an immortal Scottish swordsman who must confront the last of his immortal opponents in order to win the “prize”. I understand that when you write it like this is seems stupid but when you try to boil down any movie or TV show or book down to a single sentence it always sounds stupid.
I won’t bore you with all the details of the plot because that would take too long. Wait, I have a blog that I can write whatever I want and as long as I want so I can break this blog into multiple parts like I have before. If nearly every movie made from a book can, for some reason, break the single book into multiple movies why can’t I do the same for my blog? Fine, I will bore you with the details of the plot.
The story of the movie is about Connor MacLeod. MacLeod was born in the year 1518 in the village of Glenfinnan on the shores of Loch Shiel. The first time MacLeod goes into battle in 1536 he is stabbed by a mass of a man named the Kurgan (played by the wonderful Clancy Brown). After the battle, MacLeod is taken back to the village and given the last rights as he is expected to die by morning. Instead, MacLeod magically heals. The villagers believe it is black magic and that he is in league with the devil. MacLeod is banished from his village and forced to find his own way.
Years after his banishment, MacLeod has found peace living with his wife, Heather, in the Highlands of Scotland. One day a dashing stranger arrives causing MacLeod to feel extreme pain. This stranger is Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez, played by everyone’s favorite Scot, Sean Connery. Ramirez teaches MacLeod about his immortality and the rules of the “game” that all immortals must play.
- No one knows where immortals came from, only that they exist and are drawn to fight.
- The only way an immortal can die is if they are beheaded.
- Once you are beheaded, the winner of the fight absorbs all of your strength and knowledge. This is called the Quickening.
- Immortals cannot have children.
- Immortals cannot fight on holy ground (it doesn’t matter what religion).
- At some point in history all immortals will be drawn to a far off land to fight for the prize. This is called the “Gathering”. At the Gathering, all immortals remaining will fight until there is only one left.
- MacLeod learns that the man that stabbed him, the Kurgan, is the strongest of all the immortals but is also the most ruthless. Ramirez has sought out MacLeod to teach him so he can defeat the Kurgon.
It is at this point that the training montage ensues. It is a glorious sequence of MacLeod and Ramirez sword fighting, talking, teaching, and running on the beach. After the requisite montage in this type of movie, Connor is forced to go into town leaving Ramirez with his wife Heather. The Kurgan arrives in search of MacLeod but instead he fights Ramirez. Although Ramirez is one of the most gifted swordsmen of all time he is unable to stop the Kurgan with the Kurgan taking Ramirez’s head and with it his power. After killing Ramirez the Kurgan rapes Heather and then disappears into the world.
Flash forward to 1985 in New York City where only four immortals remain. Connor fights and defeats one immortal while the Kurgan fights and defeats another, leaving just MacLeod and the Kurgan to fight for the prize. The Kurgan torments MacLeod by capturing his current love interest (there is always a current love interest) and draws MacLeod into a fight to the death. As I’m sure you can guess, the two fight to the point that it appears obvious that the Kurgan will win but, with a little help from said love interest, MacLeod is able to rally to defeat the Kurgan and obtain the prize (which turns out to be the accumulation of all human knowledge).
Even writing it down I can see how this could be thought of as a terrible, campy movie but I have to disagree. The movie follows a structure and includes archetypes that are seen throughout cinema. It boils down to a young apprentice being trained by the old wise man in order to save the day. Here are just a few movies off the top of my head that use the same plot device:
- In A New Hope (Star Wars), Luke Skywalker must learn the ways of the Force from Obi-Wan Kenobi in order to defeat Darth Vader (Highlander is almost an exact copy of this concept with the addition of immortality).
- In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne learns how to fight criminals from Ducard as training to become Batman. The twist in this flick is that the old man training a young Batman is also the villain.
- In the Matrix, Neo must learn Kung Fu from Morpheus in order to defeat the evil Agent Smith.
I don’t remember when I first saw Highlander or how I even found it since it isn’t exactly the highest grossing picture of all time (boxofficemojo.com reports a domestic gross for the movie of $5,900,000). In fact on Highlander’s opening weekend there were six other movies that had higher box office totals but at least it had a higher box office than Back to the Future (Don’t worry about the fact that it was the week 36 for Back to the Future. That isn’t important). I was six years old when the movie was released and there was no way my parents were taking me to see a movie about guys cutting off heads so I know I didn’t see it in the theater.
I do remember sitting being home from school, sick as a dog, sitting in the living room in pajamas, and watching Highlander on repeat. More than anything else I loved the idea of being able to not only read and learn about history but to witness history as it happens. We all do this to a certain extent but not to the extent of an immortal in the Highlander universe. While I’ve been alive I have remember moving from buying music on vinyl to stealing music online then back to buying it on vinyl again. I remember my first computer that required two 5 ¼ inch floppy disks to operate; one for the operating system and the other for the word processing software. Now there is a computer in my pocket that is more powerful than the computer on the shuttle for the first flight to the moon (that is a fact, I didn’t make that one up). These are nothing compared to what an immortal could witness. Just in the movie, Connor MacLeod lives through the clan mentality of Scotland, the American Revolution, World War II, and 1980’s New York City. He has a room dedicated to all of his travels and his lives. The man witnessed the birth of the United States and the Holy Roman Empire. What an amazing life that could be!
I became so fascinated by the movie that when Rizzo and I went across the pond in 2012 to visit our good friends, the Drusteps, I made our entire group of four take a trip to the village of Glenfinnan on the shores of Loch Shiel. The birthplace of the fictional Connor MacLeod is a real place with some real historical significant. In 1745, Prince Charles began a campaign from Glenfinnan in order to reclaim the Scottish and the English thrown for the Stuarts in the name of his father, James Stuart. The campaign ultimately failed but is remembered as a historic moment in Scottish history and is commemorated by a monument in Glenfinnan.
I didn’t know any of these historical contexts before making my friends go to Glenfinnan. I just wanted to see the place where a fictional character was said to have been born. Luckily for me it was a beautiful place so no one seemed to begrudge me too much. There is also a big bridge for a train that runs through Glenfinnan that is featured in a small, independent movie about a boy named Harry Potter.
I love Highlander. I love the movies. I love the TV shows. I even love the books. Put your doubts aside and find a copy of Highlander. I’ll even let you borrow mine. You won’t be disappointed.
P.S. Seriously, think about how stupid most movies sound when attempted to be boiled down to a single sentence. A group of height challenged friends take a walk to dispose of a ring (Lord of the Rings). A princess needs the help of an old man and a farm boy to save the world from a god (Star Wars). A poor painter drowns when a ship sinks (Titanic). A banker goes to jail for killing his wife (The Shawshank Redemption). Some of the greatest movies ever made sound stupid when boiled down to a single sentence.
P.P. S. I’m not going to bore you with the boring plot details of Highlander 2 – 5 because, honestly, they aren’t worth the trouble of writing even for a super nerd like me. Highlander 3 (The Final Dimension) and Highlander 4 (Engame) are pretty good but let’s all pretend that Highlander 2 and 5 didn’t really happen.
P.P.S. When we were in Scotland we stopped into what is best described as the Scottish Cracker Barrel. While we were at the register purchasing our wares (I was buying a two disc set of Scottish bagpipe music that I tortured everyone with in the car) the clerk asked where we were heading. When I said we were on our way to Glenfinnan her response was “Oh aye, you must be fans of Harry Potter then?” At the time I didn’t know of any connection between Harry Potter and Scotland so I felt a bit insulted because did I look like a guy who likes Harry Potter?