Directed by Richard Donner, 20th Century Fox/Warner Brothers
Starring Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Broderick, Leo McKern, John Wood
A thief escapes prison and falls in with a knight who is searching for a way to break the curse upon himself and his lady love.
I don’t remember ever seeing this movie for the “first time”, I think we had taped it off of HBO or something at some point. I do remember watching and re-watching it as a teenager. The “Beauty and the Beast” aspect of the movie appealed to me (that has always been my favorite fairy tale). The “always together, eternally apart” just seemed so tragically romantic, I always fantasized about a guy loving me that much. I was also always very amused by Matthew Broderick’s character Philippe and how he was always talking to God with great familiarity, and often wondered what it would be like to be on such friendly terms with God…it seemed so irreverent…little did I know! And Michelle Pfeiffer is ethereal in this role, at one point Philippe describes her as having skin like fine porcelain, she’s absolutely haunting and breathtaking and perfect for the sad but stalwart Isabeau.
Oh, and the Alan Parsons Project soundtrack is terrible. Everyone I know thinks this. There’s nothing you can do about it, so just try and ignore it and focus on the great story instead.
This is a magical, unexplainable story, and I’m about to make you a part of it: keep reading below to hear what God showed me in LadyHawke!
Coming up on the Men at the Movies podcast, I talk with Britt and Sarah about Ladyhawke. This movie reveals the failure of false religion in contrast to the conversational relationship Mouse has with God. Like Isabeau and Navarre, we long for intimacy but constantly fail. We need a community to succeed. Join us as we discover God’s truth in this movie.
Spoilers For Ladyhawke Here!
The movie opens in the medieval dungeon of Aquila, and a young thief named Philippe “The Mouse” Gaston escapes through the sewers and is pursued by the evil bishop’s guards until he is saved by a mysterious man in black – the former captain of the guard, Etienne Navarre. Navarre takes Philippe on as a companion, knowing that since he is the only person to ever escape the dungeons, that he can help him take down the bishop.
During his time with Navarre, Philippe is curious as to where the knight disappears to in the evenings, and is startled by the appearance of an enigmatic and beautiful woman. The woman vanishes in the morning, and Navarre re-appears.
Philippe is captured by the bishop’s guards, and when Navarre rescues him again, his hawk is injured in the crossfire. Desperate to help the creature, Navarre orders Philippe to take it to a monk at a local monastery for healing. When Philippe does so, he discovers that after night has fallen, the hawk has transformed into the beautiful young woman he met before. The monk, Imperious, relates the tale of the woman, Isabeau, and how she and Navarre were in love before they were cursed by the bishop, who was also in love with Isabeau. The curse is heartbreaking: by day, Isabeau is trapped in the form of a hawk, and by night, Navarre takes on the shape of a wolf, so that the lovers are always together, but eternally apart.
Imperious reveals that God has shown him a way to break the curse, but Navarre, angry at Imperious for betraying them to the bishop in the first place, refuses to believe him. Navarre and Philippe continue on their way, with Imperious following behind them. At night, Philippe and Navarre convince Isabeau to help them, and after Philippe saves Navarre’s wolf form from a fall through the ice, he agrees as well. The group sneaks into Aquila.
Philippe re-enters the sewers and makes his way to the church where the bishop is holding services, and unlocks the door so that Navarre may enter to confront the bishop. Navarre fights and defeats the captain of the guard just as a solar eclipse begins, which allows Isabeau to take on human form. The two of them stand as man and woman before the bishop, which allows their curse to finally be broken, and the lovers are reunited. The movie ends with Imperious telling Philippe he fully expects to see him at the gates of Heaven one day, to which Philippe replies that he’ll be there…”even if he has to pick the lock.”
So What Did God Show Me?
-I think one of my favorite things about this movie is how Philippe is always talking to God. He has such a wonderful intimate friendship with God, and that’s not something you see in a lot of movies, even Christian movies. He talks to God like God invites us to. He asks God for help, he goes to Him when he’s afraid, he’s frank when he’s angry or doesn’t understand something. “I told the truth, Lord! How am I to learn any moral lessons if You keep confusing me like this?” Philippe obviously feels very free to be honest with God about how he’s feeling.
Maybe you can’t imagine being able to talk so freely and openly like this to God, maybe it feels disrespectful or sacrilegious? I can understand that, I used to think that way myself. But let me assure you, this is the kind of relationship we should all aspire to have with God. To be able to talk to Him like a dear friend that you know well, one who is sitting right beside you, not some stuffy untouchable Being off in a lofty heaven somewhere. God wants us to talk to Him like this, to be comfortable enough to express ourselves freely with Him. I mean, just look at King David in the Psalms, he was vulnerable and honest about all his feelings before God, sharing his pain, his joy, his despair and anger with God.
-Philippe’s relationship with God was in sharp contrast to the bishop’s lack thereof. The bishop is a leader of the church in name only, and is a harsh and cruel man, using his power to crush others. He twists the Word of God to use for his own purposes, and is filled with hate, lust, and revenge. One thing I found interesting is something I discovered when reading the novelization of the movie by Joan D Vinge. The bishop, when he struck his deal with the devil to curse the lovers, included in the deal a protection for his own soul. As long as the couple remains under the curse, the bishop’s soul will remain safe and he will never go to hell. If the curse is ever broken, however, his soul will be forfeit and belong to the devil. So as long as Isabeau and Navarre remain cursed, the bishop is pretty much getting a free ride through life to do whatever he pleases because he has nothing to fear, no recriminations or consequences for any of his actions.
It really speaks a lot about the two different men and what they put their faith in. Philippe puts his faith in a God whom he believes loves him and accepts him as he is, a flawed sinner. He seeks wisdom from God on how to proceed and trusts that God will take care of him. When he thinks he’s about to be killed, he cries out, “May God have mercy on my soul!” The bishop, however, puts his faith in himself, and tries to control his own destiny, which ultimately fails. It bothers me that so many of us in the world today live our lives in the same manner, like there will be no consequences for our actions. And I’m not just talking about the afterlife, either, although I believe that certainly is something to take into account. How many of us make decisions every day (I’m totally including myself here) that benefit ourselves but harm others? And not even big ones: letting anger or stress get the better of us and lashing out, or ignoring a request for help because we don’t feel like it? Just something to consider…who is directing your steps, your actions? You, or God?
-I really feel for and am impressed by the character of Isabeau. What a woman! She stays committed to Navarre even though she only ever sees him in wolf form, because she loves him and refuses to give up hope that someday there will be a chance for them to be together as man and woman again. She is brave, traveling alone without a protector at night, which in medieval times was practically suicide for a woman. And through it all she does not give in to despair but stays hopeful, and is friendly to Philippe and even Imperious, who betrayed them. I think of what a wonderful life I have, full of blessings, relationships, comfort, and opportunities, and I am ashamed that I complain so much to God about not having this or having to struggle with that. It’s not mentioned much in the film, but I believe that Isabeau must’ve had a lot of faith in God in order to keep going, and belief that He had not abandoned her or Navarre but still had a future and a hope for them. I just don’t see how she could have kept going if she didn’t.
-Navarre was really called to step out in his faith also. Again, the movie novelization shares more about Navarre’s character background: as captain of the bishop’s guard, he was ordered to perform all sorts of cruel things against the people in the bishop’s name, because in serving the bishop, he felt he was serving God. Navarre was obedient to the bishop, because he was trying to be faithful to God. But since Navarre is at heart a good man, it severely troubled him to commit such acts. (Again, it bothers me to think about so many atrocities being committed today in the name of the church. Using God as an excuse to oppress or take power is NEVER, EVER ok, and those people who do use God in that way, to serve their own ends, will someday have to answer to Him for it…so they should be freakin’ TREMBLING.) The only thing that broke his allegiance to the bishop was when the bishop came after Isabeau, and Navarre’s eyes were opened to his true evil. But, breaking with the bishop crippled Navarre’s faith in God when the bishop cursed him and Isabeau, because how could a God of love let such a thing happen?
Like many trials and troubles we go through in this broken, fallen world, Isbaeau and Navarre’s struggle, in the end, served to strengthen their relationship. Doesn’t mean it was ok that it happened, or that it felt good while it was happening, but really, what trials DO? Trials suck royally, and it’s only AFTER we can see the significance of how they change us as a person. Anyway, it solidified their commitment to each other as well as God, for Navarre was asked to step out of his anger and desire for revenge against the bishop, and let God fight for him instead. As a strong man used to doing his own fighting, this must have been extremely humbling for him. But in allowing himself to be humbled, in giving up his own hate-fueled desires, God showed him a better way. God showed Navarre how, no matter how hard he tried, there was absolutely nothing he could do to break the bishop’s curse, that he had to give it over to God and do things His way. And, in the end, he was once more allowed to protect his love, as it is in a man to protect and defend a woman, and bring justice against the bishop.
-I love the beauty of forgiveness in Imperious’ story! Here is a true (albeit flawed, as we all are) man of God. He sees the true love between Navarre and Isabeau and blesses it, and helps them. But then he makes a mistake, says the wrong thing at the wrong time, and both he and the couple pay the price for it. You have to wonder, who suffered worse? The couple under the curse, or Imperious, knowing that he was the cause of the curse in the first place? No wonder he sought comfort in alcohol. How many of us seek to numb our own pains and regrets through alcohol, food, video games, or some other creature comfort?
But God is good! He is GOOD! He saw Imperious’ heart, and heard his pleas. God not only forgave Imperious, but provided him a way to help the lovers’ curse be broken! It’s so beautiful, the scene where Imperious is crying out to Navarre, “God has forgiven me! He has forgiven me!” It’s like he’s saying, “Man, don’t you see? My sins have been swept away, my guilt no longer has a hold on me! And He has given me the means to help you! Please let me help you!” Man, I love it. There is nothing like the feeling of experiencing true, deep, and lasting forgiveness from God, knowing that the accusations that the enemy levels at you have no more power. If you’ve never experienced this…I hope someday you do. There is simply nothing like being able to let go of years of regret, misery, and guilt, knowing you are fully loved and free in God. If this is something you’d like to know more about, please feel free to contact me through the contact page-I’d love to listen about what’s on your heart!
One more last bit of novelization trivia: in the book, it’s revealed that Philippe’s mother, whom he references often, was thrown into prison for stealing bread. After she gave birth to Philippe, she was hanged as a thief, and he was placed in a monastery to be raised. It was there that he first learned about God, but he ended up running away because the monks would beat him to discipline him. I find it amazing first of all that Philippe would want anything to do with God after being treated in such a way by men who profess to love and serve him. And second, that he would develop such a healthy and friendly relationship with God. Philippe was able to see past the religious perspective so many people put on God, to the true Father. The Father that was always with him, that loves him completely and is delighted with him just as he is. This is the same Father that loves and is delighted by you, that created you for Himself, and that wants that same open and honest friendship with you. I hope all of you reading this (if you don’t already) will come to know Him that way. He’s waiting for you.
How has God shown his forgiveness to you? Drop a comment below and encourage others with your story!
Links I Like
Links I like:
–Ladyhawke, by Joan D Vinge – the movie novelization is for sale on Amazon.
–Joan D Vinge’s Wikipedia page – she wrote a ton of other movie novelizations and other cool stuff!
–NerdChapel.com – A blog post on LadyHawke on a website for “nerdy” Christians.
–Behind the Scenes of LadyHawke – a behind the scenes video of the movie
–Rifftrax trailer – The guys over at Rifftrax give LadyHawke the MST3K treatment!