Don’t Hold Your Breath: Considering The The Psychological Aftermath Of “LadyHawke”

Don’t Hold Your Breath: Considering The The Psychological Aftermath Of “LadyHawke”

In an interview with the Telegraph last week, Michelle Pfeiffer admitted that she was briefly involved with a cult back in the early 80s. I love the idea of tiny, ethereal Michelle gargling ram’s blood, branding initiates, and banging a gong while supervising subterranean orgies, but it wasn’t that kind of a cult. It wasn’t a cool cult.

No, Michelle fell in with some Age of Aquarius-singing, crystal deodorant-using, Los Angeles spiritualists who practice Breatharianism. Breatharians are real, and their cult is stupid. The basic idea is that being out in the sun can fulfill all of your body’s nutritional requirements if you’re spiritually open to receiving them.

Not being one to pooh-pooh pseudoscience, I attempted to photosynthesize myself before breakfast this morning. After shoving gardening boots on over my pajama pants, I stood out in the back yard with my mouth open for close to three minutes. A half-hour later, I had completely forgotten that the sun had done me a solid by filling me with spirit-vitamins, and ate some instant oatmeal. Whoops! I guess the jury’s still out on this one.

I can’t help but be disappointed that the woman who so righteously nailed the role of Catwoman in Batman Returns couldn’t find an edgier cult to escape from. However, Ms. Pfeiffer’s bizarre, albeit brief, belief in the transformative powers of sunlight reminded me of her role in the 1985 film LadyHawke. In it, she plays a young woman who has, along with her lover, been unfairly cursed by a jealous Bishop. She is doomed to be transformed into a hawk during the daylight hours. Her beau, played by a leather-clad Rutger Hauer, becomes a wolf at night, thus ensuring that his P can never, ever, meet her V. Matthew Broderick is also hanging around in a burlap tunic, having weird, non-sequitur conversations with God.


This is not a self-aware fantasy film like Shrek or The Princess Bride; LadyHawke means some serious Sword-and-Sorcery business. Just as a well-placed “Huzzah” indicates solidarity to a Renaissance Festival devotee, the superfluous “e” at the end of LadyHawke is pretty much an open invitation to its key demographic: me, drawbridge enthusiasts, and people who are willing to save up for a good-quality cloak. The latter could be Renaissance Festival devotees, or possibly members of one of your edgier cults.

While we’re on the topic, I think we can all agree that sun-turning-Michelle-Pfeiffer-into-bird-of-prey is worlds more badass than sun-filling-Michelle-Pfeiffer-with-cosmic-hummus. I can’t be too hard on her for the hummus thing, though.

People believe stupid shit when they’re young, sometimes way past the point where naiveté can be considered a respectable excuse. Beyond the fantasy that our parents push upon us—the Tooth Fairy, the Bogeyman—we create our own, utterly unbelievable mythologies and insert ourselves into the center of them.

For example: at 13, I was convinced that the X-Men existed in a parallel dimension and would come for me once my latent mutant powers (hotness, the ability to manipulate the molecular structure of stuff) activated. I had a duffel bag packed and was totally unsentimental about ditching my family forever in order to train in the Danger Room.


It was a sad day when I finally tucked my Survival Guide to the Mansion into a protective cover and shoved it under my bed for good. Let’s be real, though; I haven’t completely given up. Probably alternate-dimension Ellaree is still barely legal, in fighting shape, and hasn’t been desocialized from too many food service and call-center gigs.

The mythology of fantasy film romance is something people buy into all the time and is at least as ridiculous as my Rain Man-like familiarity with the emergency exits on the Blackbird.

There is a time in each of our lives when we wholeheartedly believe that love based solely on physical attraction is everlasting. This has been reinforced in books and film forever without having any basis in reality, but never so egregiously as in the fantasy genre.

Fantasy romance is like the pimply teenager of fiction. There’s always a quest to embark on, a monster to slay, or a trial to endure in order to prove definitively that the story’s male hero is way into having sex with a beautiful lady. That same, gorgeous woman is traditionally incapable of fending for herself and needs her sexuality to be liberated for her.

LadyHawke more or less fits that trope, though the film makes a valiant attempt at deviating from the norm by indicating that Michelle Pfeiffer’s cursed maiden has a few admirable qualities in addition to being gorgeous. She’s self-sufficient and has a terrific sense of humor for a woman who’s being victimized by demonic forces.

Her beauty is key, though. It is reiterated at every opportunity, just in case we’re too busy focusing on the film’s many fine drawbridges to notice that she’s breathtaking, and it is enough to motivate every male character in the film. The only reason the curse exists in the first place is because the evil Bishop has popped one too many unrequited boners for her and can’t handle it anymore, therefore deciding that no one else’s boner shall be popped in her vicinity, either.

It seems sort of alarmist, but who could blame him? Everyone in this world who’s not a main character or a horse is gross-looking (which, incidentally, is probably historically accurate for 12th Century France).

The lovers triumph in the end, but we are not allowed to see the psychological aftermath of their ordeal. Two years have passed with each of them living a feral half-life. If this was a real relationship that had just survived the vengeful hoodoo of a fallen holy man, they’d have decades of dealing with each other’s lingering PTSD to look forward to. He’d have to accept her compulsion to feather their castle with mouse carcasses and bits of metal; she’d need to be chill when he licks though the crotch of every single pair of her dirty pantaloons, or whatever they wore back then.

The “ever after” portion of “happily ever after” is not as crucial to our mythology as is the process of getting there. If Professor X had sent the Blue Team to retrieve me via the Siege Perilous—because that is how it was going to go down—it would have only been exciting for a short while before I began to miss my cat, sleeping in, and the smell of my grandmother’s cheek when I kissed her.

Being wrapped up in the romance of impossible adventure, I wasn’t interested in projecting forward to how lousy life in spandex would be, just as it’s probably safe to assume that Michelle Pfeiffer didn’t ever anticipate having to explain why she’s still ingesting solids to a British journalist.

Still, we spend the majority of our time drudging through life’s realities; the perpetual willingness to suspend our disbelief might be all that keeps us from being completely boring.

I wonder if Michelle still secretly dines out of doors when the weather is nice? More than that, I wonder if she ever let Rutger Hauer put his P in her V, because that’s my kind of fantasy.



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