Great Character Moments: Phillippe Gaston “The Mouse” from Ladyhawke (1985)
Character: Philippe Gaston, “The Mouse”
Actor: Matthew Broderick
Role: A thief in the 12th century, he escapes a dungeon and is pursued by prison guards but rescued by a mysterious black knight with a terrible secret.
Gaston is the narrator and commentator of this mystical tale of a man and woman forbidden by a dark curse to ever be together, for in daylight, the lovely Isabeau d’Anjou (Michelle Pfeiffer) takes the form of a golden hawk while at night, Etienne of Navarre (Rutger Hauer) transforms into a black wolf. The evil Bishop of Aquila (John Wood) is to blame, and Navarre employs the aid of “The Mouse” to help him sneak back into the guarded castle in order to slay the corrupt leader and break the curse.
The Moment: Along the way, Gaston, Navarre and Isabeau, reach the ruined castle of Imperius (Leo McKern), the former Bishop’s confessor. He explains to the boy the tragic story of how the Bishop, fallen madly in love with the beautiful Isabeau was rejected when he learned of her secret affair with the Captain of his guard. Enraged by jealousy, he cast a demonic spell that would leave the lovers “Always together; eternally apart.” With this hapless tale, and his time already spent with the passionate but imprisoned lovers, Gaston is further taken by their plight and he becomes committed to getting them into Aquila. One night, while traveling to the Bishop’s fortress, they await the dawn, where Navarre and Isabeau might share a fleeting second as human, but as the wolf approaches the anticipating girl, the ice beneath his feet cracks and he falls into the freezing waters. Gaston, kept hidden behind an embankment, rushes forward. Impaling the Captain’s sword in the ice, he creates an anchor and ties himself to it. Crawling along the ice and snow, he reaches the fissure and jumps in, desperately grabbing at the wolf as it thrashes about, finally rescuing the drowning creature, by heaving it free of an icy death.
Why It Matters: Gaston is clever, but he is also a coward, or at least makes every consorted effort he can to avoid danger. Small and decidedly unfit for adventure, he is good at being two things: being a petty thief and escaping from almost any jail. Navarre however, needs these skills to help him into the castle, and he sees more in the young man than just a scoundrel and thief. That reveals itself to be true as “The Mouse” learns to put others ahead of himself, no matter the cost. It’s all about sacrifice, and in the film’s biggest character arc, Gaston is willing to give his own life to safe the Captain and give the doomed couple hope for a new destiny. Better still, he doesn’t it not for reward or glamour; it is a selfless act, and it completely changes how we perceive Gaston, shifting him from the comedic sidekick to the very reason – in fact – the only reason Navarre and Isabeau can have any chance for love. It’s a great character moment.