Dragons are the hottest mythical creature in the genre market right now.
Most of that is due to the popularity of Game of Thrones. Where would Daenerys Targaryen be without her fire-breathing babies? How would the Night King cross the Great Wall without an ice dragon of his own?
Dragons permeate folklore and pop culture to such an extent that they were bound to end up on the big screen too. Normally, when a dragon pops up, it’s a terrifying beast to be slain, a limitless weapon to wield, a majestic being to be in awe of.
That’s cool and all, but before George R.R. Martin leveraged the large serpents for his own ends, there was another dragon archetype that didn’t get the credit it was due.
In 1996, the world was gifted a different kind of dragon. A sophisticated, intelligent, emotionally vulnerable knight slayer. He was voiced by Sean Connery, which only added to his allure, and he struck up a romance that was never explored to its fullest extent because people had a thing against interspecies relationships at the time.
Well, this travesty, this blight upon the pop culture history of dragons will stand no longer.
Welcome to my TED Talk of why Dragonheart was really the kind of rom-com fantasy vehicle fanfiction was created for.
A brief explainer: Dragonheart is a British-American flick starring Dennis Quaid and Connery. In it, Quaid plays a knight named Bowen disenfranchised with his king, a carrot-topped, pimple-faced brat played by David Thewlis. Against all odds, he strikes up a friendship with the only dragon still living, a creature named Draco, and the two traipse around the English countryside, fighting to save the kingdom, before tragedy strikes.
So sure, the film reads like your typical adventure jaunt until you actually sit down to watch it.
Because you see, the real draw of this film isn’t the incredible CGI work of Connery’s dragon-form, the grand explosions, the historic castles, or the many, many battles on horseback. No, the real draw of this film is the friendship, and eventual love, shared by Draco and Bowen, two misfits who find each other in their time of need.
The pair first meets when Bowen is a young man in charge of grooming the future king. Draco gives half his heart to save the young boy’s life but as he grows up, he becomes more callous and crueler, something Bowen blames Draco for. That first meeting is fraught with anxiety and the impending threat of death, but Draco and Bowen forge a connection anyway. They both respect the Old Code, a system of ethics knights like Bowen live their lives by. Bowen even pledges Draco his sword before returning and promising to hunt him down for his believed corruption of the king. And what great love story doesn’t begin with an oath of vengeance in a fiery cave, am I right?
The two face off again, coming to a bit of a stalemate when Bowen becomes trapped inside Draco’s sharp-teethed jaws. Bowen vows to deal a death blow should Draco try to eat him. The sexual tension is rife.
Eventually, the pair forges a kind of partnership. Draco is the last of his kind and killing him would put Bowen out of the dragon-slaying business. Plus, Draco’s tired of being hunted by strange men. Bowen’s surly sure, but he’s got a nice head of hair and the prettiest eyes and Draco just needs to find a way to befriend this man, so he proposes they trick people into thinking Bowen has killed Draco, letting both profit from the lie.
And that’s where this movie turns into the medieval, interspecies Bonnie and Clyde we never knew we needed.
Bowen and Draco are just a couple trekking through the English countryside, scamming peasants out of their gold, having in-depth conversations about the futility of life and their shared fear of death over late-night fires, sleeping beneath the stars, caring for one another, giving each other pet names. Honestly, if you were only shown the road trip part of this movie, you’d have no way of knowing this wasn’t intended to be a fantasy rom-com.
At one point, Draco abandons Bowen to save the life of a young woman named Kara. He takes her back to his cave — his and Bowen’s cave — and Bowen throws the kind of fit you’d expect from a jealous lover. He rants and raves about how worried he was for Draco, how hurt he felt when Draco didn’t show up. Sure, Kara is meant to serve as Bowen’s love interest, she’s meant to throw us off the scent, but there’s no denying the chemistry and connection between these two.
The film ends with the lovers forced to say goodbye in the worst of ways. Draco begs Bowen to kill him so that the king will die too, and his reign of tyranny will be over. Bowen does but not before he questions the point of life without his partner, not before he weeps over the cruelty of this impossible choice. We tear up watching this because a mythical being is sacrificed for the good of humanity, but we cry too because Bowen and Draco are being forced apart in the harshest of ways. So yeah, this thing doesn’t end like your typical rom-com, but the love is still there.
Dragonheart will be remembered for many things. It gave us Dennis Quaid as an honorable knight in a bad wig. It gave us Sean Connery as an impressively realistic CGI dragon. But what it should be remembered for is the love story of Draco and Bowen, two lost souls who found life in each other.