Original release: : May 14th, 1982
Running Time: 129 minutes
Director: John Milius
Writers: John Milius, Oliver Stone
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow
Before he was the Governor of California and an Expendable, Arnold Schwarzenegger maintained an impressive career as an action movie star from the 80’s through to the 90’s with roles in blockbusters like The Terminator (1984), Commando (1985), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and True Lies (1994) to name but a few, but it was Conan The Barbarian that first brought him mainstream attention.
It wasn’t because of his acting. It was because he was Arnie, and for many of us that was enough. With his hulking figure, deadpan delivery and brute force, he didn’t need to be in character and these roles suited him so perfectly.
Based on the novels by the 1930’s pulp fiction writer, Robert E. Howard, as well as the Marvel comics that later followed, Conan The Barbarian told the story of a young warrior living in savage and magical prehistoric times. As a young boy Conan’s parents were slain by snake cult leader, Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones). Growing up as a slave and then becoming a gladiator, Conan’s only wish is to avenge his parents’ deaths.
After being freed, Conan sets off to find Doom in the Temple of Set. He must also rescue a princess and retrieve the sword stolen from his father – which was used to behead his mother.
With its action, gore and sex, Conan The Barbarian has evolved as a cult classic along with other sword and sorcery films like Excalibur (1981), Krull (1983) and Highlander (1986), but it has also received criticism for what has been as viewed as fascistic elements.
Cambridge lecturer and author David Huckvale noted that Conan is similar to the Aryan blonde beast in Richard Wagner’s opera, Siegfried (1876) ¹ and while this is might be the case, associations with further Nazi Aryan elements by other critics seem rather misguided and sensationalist.
Other criticisms include that Conan The Barbarian follows in the footsteps of Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda films.
The blond warrior does slice off a black man’s head and throw it down a flight of stairs, but the black man (Doom) had previously murdered Conan’s parents in cold blood. He also leads a cannibalistic cult and has the power to transform himself into a massive serpent. Taken in context, the fascistic claims are unfounded, and to me, it signifies why film theory, given free reign, can sometimes veer so frantically off course.
Conan The Barbarian should not be taken as seriously as these academics have taken it. It’s a action romp and any efforts to see further into it tells more about the critics, and their misinterpretations of Nietzsche and the Übermensch, than it does about the film.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
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