Although we live and coexist in the same world, men and beasts have never been at peace and probably never will be.
If at the dawn of the human race we ran fearfully before them, hiding in some cave, with time and our evolution, things have changed a lot.
Now we are the ones exploiting animals in any way we can. They are our food and entertainment; we even test drugs and beauty products on them.
Perhaps we are cruel to them because they remind us of our humble animal origins that we would like to forget?
Indeed, we have done our best to dominate every species and every aspect of this planet’s environment.
There is no corner of the earth where there is no human presence. Just as there are no animals, we have not submitted to our will.
So when nature and the beasts are allowed to return the favor and unleash their fury on us, you can be sure that they don’t mind.
How do we portray this struggle between humans and beasts in films?
Examples in this regard are certainly not lacking, from Steven Spielberg‘s Jaws to Stephen King‘s rabid dog Cujo, to name a few of the most famous.
Today’s three films were quite popular in the 1980s and 1990s. Yet today, I don’t know how many among the younger generation still know them.
So let’s go to the arena and be ready for the fight because the loser certainly becomes the day’s dish.
Table of contents
Because I am very moody and enjoy contradicting myself, let’s start with a romantic fantasy movie that seems to have nothing to do with what I have said so far.
But fear not, the struggle between men and beasts is not lacking at all and is the central theme of the whole story.
Indeed, the protagonists are lovers escaping from a powerful and evil bishop jealous of the beautiful girl.
Not satisfied with making them live far from their homes, he resorts to dark sorcery to impose a cruel curse on them.
By day, the girl transforms into a hawk. While at night, she returns human just as her beloved becomes a dangerous wolf.
Though always together, the two lovers can never see each other, and so it will be until the end of their days.
The man wants revenge against the bishop who forced them into that life, whose guards he once headed.
However, the castle/prison where he lives is an impregnable fortress garrisoned by his large army of fanatics.
Despite this, one day, a petty thief escapes from the prison where he was lock in. While escaping, he then runs right into the two cursed lovers.
Therefore, they all plan to secretly sneak into the castle together to surprise the bishop and kill him.
But perhaps there is a way to break the curse. But is the man now so blinded by hatred that he only desires revenge?
80s fantasy love
Ladyhawke is one of the many cult films by one of my favorite directors, Richard Donner, a skilled craftsman of the kind of entertainment cinema that hardly exists today.
Indeed, during those years, his directing gave us great gems like The Goonies, The Omen, and the Lethal Weapon action saga.
However, I am fond of this film mostly because of national pride. Indeed, except for a few scenes in France, it was shot almost entirely in Italy.
The theme of the story is always the struggle between man and beast. Not surprisingly, the two semi-human lovers have the whole world practically against them.
In the roles of these timeless lovers, we have two absolute stars, such as Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer.
It is hard to forget when they were still young, beautiful and beginning their spectacular careers.
Helping them is the small but irresistible rogue Matthew Broderick. He is simply adorable, this petty thief and escapes artist with an unstoppable mouth.
This petty thief repeatedly gets into trouble, asking God to help him. But once the danger is averted, he abandons all good intentions and punctually returns to stealing.
Finally, we have the tremendous Bishop John Wood, an actor we had seen a few years earlier as a wise and pacifist programmer in WarGames.
In this case, however, it is an older man consumed by resentment and jealousy. Going mad over a girl he cannot have, he lets his perverse love turn into uncontrollable hatred.
It is, therefore, hard to tell who is the beast between him and the two hapless lovers, as well as all the men armed to the teeth which give them no respite.
Ladyhawke is an absolute must-see cult, full of action, humor, and romance, as few films today manage to be.
The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)
Instead, the second movie deals with a different story, incredibly inspired by an incident that actually happened in Kenya during the late 1800s.
Everything begins during the construction of a bridge for a railroad that supposedly will be a significant section across the African continent.
Work proceeds quickly by skillful local laborers, under the orders of an engineer sent by the British government.
One day, blood starts to flow on the site when two ferocious lions attack and maul some poor workers.
Having been a soldier in his time and an excellent marksman, the engineer personally intervenes. Indeed it is necessary to eliminate these beasts before they devour more men, otherwise, they will never stop.
However, his attempt ends in tragedy when the lions, smarter than he thought, evade his trap, fleeing into the forest.
At that point, the government brings in a great American adventurer, legendary for being infallible, along with his fellow African tribespeople.
The two hunters then begin scouting the area, hoping to follow the trail to the lions’ hideout.
When they finally find her, the truth is worse than their worst suspicions. Indeed they discover the remains of the hundreds of victims they evidently reaped for years.
As terror hovers in the yard, everyone prepares for battle against these predators who kill simply for the sake of the hunt.
Are beasts crueler than men?
Despite the topic I have chosen today, I have never been very passionate about hunting or guns.
The Ghost and the Darkness is a movie that has always fascinated me incredibly, perhaps even beyond its actual merits.
The direction has the usual spectacular American style at the hands of a solid genre director like Stephen Hopkins.
In addition, the magnificent African locations alone create the atmosphere. How not to fear a world so distant and unknown to Western civilization?
It is a world where every shadow can hide danger, and men have not yet wholly subjugated the beasts to their will.
Perhaps a little too naive is the narrative of the good English colonists and the poor African laborers. It could have been more thorough in its many social hostilities with more effort.
However, we cannot deny the adventure side of this little epic perfectly works. This is mainly because of good suspenseful direction and excellent protagonists.
Indeed, in the role of the two hunters, we have an excellent pair of actors formed by Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas.
The former is a soldier with strict regulations, but in his own way also romantic. Indeed is also a dreamer eager to build something in that still unspoiled corner of the world.
On the other hand, the second is a renowned hunter, somewhat arrogant and blustery. Yet he is also very experienced, quickly realizing that his prey is not just lions.
To sum up, we have the sum of what is every hunter’s wet dream, namely an impossible challenge against an almost supernatural enemy.
For movie lovers, however, it is almost two hours of a good action thriller. All while staying in a place where men are, still, the favorite prey of beasts.
The Edge (1997)
Finally, we conclude with a movie where the struggle occurs not only against beasts but also among humans.
The main character is an elderly billionaire who flies to Alaska to celebrate his birthday for an exceptional vacation.
Along with him is his charming wife, a famous model, who takes advantage of the situation for a photo shoot.
Once there, the man decides to visit an old friend whom he has not seen in many years, along with the agency photographer and assistant.
The trip requires a short plane ride while the others wait at the cabin. But the plane crashes in the middle of the snowy forests due to a stupid accident.
Tragically, the pilot dies in the crash while the other men try to find their way through the desolation of that wilderness.
So they try to organize shelter and seek rescue by orienting themselves among the trees. But suddenly, a bear comes out of the woods and eats alive the assistant, who is already badly injured.
Unfortunately for them, now that the beast has tasted human blood, it would like to complete the meal with the other survivors, so they must run like hell.
Increasingly tested by fatigue, hunger, and cold, they eventually must stop and attempt to fight the giant killer animal.
However, they have an unspoken conflict, as the photographer has an affair with the billionaire’s wife.
Far from civilization in that godforsaken place, the two men will fight like beasts, even worse than the bear.
Modern man’s survival in ancient nature
While I love Lee Tamahori‘s early films, such as the magnificent Once Were Warriors, his decline during his Hollywood years is undeniable.
Unfortunately, the blockbuster industry digested and then regurgitated the New Zealand director. What we have today is only a shadow of what he was.
However, The Edge is still a film with the original strength of his early work. Although it is far from the cultural fascination of its origins, it has undoubted charm in nature and characters.
This is due to the greater appeal of this story, which we can sum up in two essential elements.
The first is the intriguing and well-dosed screenplay by a veteran David Mamet, one that simply never misses a beat.
Secondly, the strength is in the outstanding performance of Anthony Hopkins, a thoroughbred actor who can always be relied upon.
This character is humble and quiet, despite being a billionaire surrounded by people who would like to exploit his wealth.
Amid the Alaskan woods, the man returns to his primal essence, demonstrating a survival instinct far sharper than the other survivors.
Finally, we emphasize the solid Alec Baldwin role, a city blowhard who will learn the hard way what nature is.
The character contrast between these characters stays with us until the end when it then becomes a real fight to the death between two men in love with the same woman.
In short, men and beasts mingle in this last film where perhaps the bear is the least horrible predator, as it is by instinct and not by petty personal rivalries.