Then & Now: Highlander

Geoff Harris

“There can be only one!”

Highlander (1986) is a British-American modern fantasy/action adventure starring Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Clancy Brown, and Roxanne Hart. Directed by Russell Mulcahy.

There walks among us beings blessed (or cursed) with immortality. Only the removal of their heads can set them free from the mortal coil. For reasons not fully discussed in the film, the immortals would square off against each other in mortal combat. The winner beheads the loser and absorbs his soul, referred to as “The Quickening.” It is this mystical force which both provides their immortality but also grants abilities far beyond those of mortal men; strength, speed, hyper-senses, etc.. The plot centers on Connor MacLeod, a Highlander in the north of Scotland.  Felled in battle, he returns from the grave only to be cast out as a demon and left to live in exile. He takes a wife and watches as she ages but he stays eternally young. The movie bounces back and forth from the past to modern-day New York where Connor awaits the arrival of other immortals for what is called The Gathering, a point in history where all immortals converge in one place to fight until only one remains. The final warrior will receive The Gift. The Gift is a sort of zen-like oneness which could either unite humanity or destroy it.

Sean Connery plays Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez, a flamboyant Spaniard/ Egyptian (with a screamingly obvious Scottish accent) who seeks MacLeod out to train the new immortal and prepare him for the Gathering’s approach. Clancy Brown played The Kurgan, a warlord from the steppes of Russia. His character was the one who had originally killed Connor, presumably he knew the Highlander would rise and had planned to return to snatch an easy kill. Ramirez trains Connor and is subsequently slain by Kurgan. This sets the Highlander on a centuries long series of misadventures and a front row view of history as it unfolded around him. Back in modern-day, The Gathering is now. The Kurgan has survived to be a part of the final battles. Eventually he and Connor square off and the movie concludes with an epic sword fight.


I was always drawn to the odd or offbeat. As I have said prior in my article about Buckaroo Banzai, I like the left-of-center original idea stories over reworked hackneyed crap. Highlander is one of “those movies” you either get or will spend hours ranting about claymores vs. katanas, Queen’s “A Kind of Magic”, or “Is it an album or a Soundtrack?”, the nature of the Quickening…it goes on and on. I watched this movie EVERY TIME IT CAME ON. Come on, it starts with a scene of the Fabulous Freebirds  wrestling at Madison Square Garden. Yes, I did find the plot a tad slow at times and a bit rushed in others. However, this movie became a “go to” mainstay of my Sunday afternoon list. In a way, it strengthened my interest in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism). I remember walking through a local mall and there was a live demo going on. The clank-clank of swords could be heard all down the promenade. Being an immortal swordsman was like crack.


I’ve curbed my addiction over the years. Maybe one too many bad sequels? The tv show was an interesting, albeit confusing at first, riff off the original film. On one hand, it expanded the overall meta of Highlander but created a fair amount of crazy of its own. I can see now why the original is so schizophrenic sometimes. It’s a British-American production. The Brits are more character driven. The story builds around the central figures and tends to focus more on the effects of events on those characters as opposed to an entire film detailing the event (i.e. robbing a bank or a terrorist takeover). American audiences tend to get anxious if a film starts dragging. Highlander has some of those moments. I do find myself reacting the same in my advancing age. Oh, this is where they do that long sequence where Connor does miscellaneous stuff for no good reason…time to hit the bog or get a snack. I know this movie almost well enough to reenact it from memory. It’s such a part of who I am as a geek. I’ve had my sword vs sword arguments and still tear up a bit when I hear the opening chords of “Who Wants To Live Forever?”

I have pondered what immortality would be like and I conclude resolutely that it would suck nightly. Boredom would be the greatest enemy. You can only do so much or travel so far before the thrill fades. Yes, there are always new things cropping up and the first couple hundred years would be a whirlwind but then you face the long hours. The spaces between awesome and mundane. And forget about relationships. Watching the fourth or fifth love grow old and whither away would dehumanize you. Worst still, prison. Stuck in a box until the walls are soft enough to push through because the weeds have grown up through the cracks is not a pleasant sounding activity. One day, several thousand years from now, the Sun will explode and our little blue world will become a charred cinder in the cold vacuum of space. There you stand…alone. Counting the stars and giving them all new names as madness takes over.

Okay, dark much?

Highlander is a classic and will always have a place in my heart. I recommend it to those young geeks as a waypoint. Gather children and see a tale told from a time before cybernetic implants and memory chips. A time when a man, defined in the old tongue, would have to see the eyes of his foe as they used real physical skill to battle. No avatars here! Oh no, my swirling balls of sentient light. This was a story of love, loss, and triumph. Virtues you can access via link #7776-12-12-al88v. Old man Geoff must  regenerate now. His organ replacements are almost as old as he is. No, THX-1123, I don’t exactly know why they couldn’t fight on “Holy Ground?” I dunno….maybe a tradition no one remembers the origin of. I’m tired….Frak off, ya’  computer generated spark! Go haunt somebody else’s  system for a while!

-End of Line-

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