This in itself would be enough for the film to have maintained its relevance for forty years – it's impossible to study current affairs today without encountering worries about climate change, pollution, over-industrialisation, and the loss of the natural world. The film’s clear conservationist message is as fresh as ever, but it isn’t the most powerful, for there is a message beneath the message: the sublimity of the natural world can only be truly experienced in the context of human relationships.
As I watched the film again, I noticed that the power of the scenery in the background is complimented and elevated by the human connections in the foreground. Mac forges a real friendship with Urquhart and develops a real fondness for the local people, so although he loves the landscape it is the relationships it inspires that really move his heart. Oldsen may be wowed by the sea, but this is elevated by the love he feels for the mysterious, web-towed marine biologist Marina swimming in it.
The great irony of the story is that Mac and Oldsen – isolated corporate men – come to want to protect the integrity of the landscape, while Urquhart and villagers are motivated to sell and abandon it as the local economy stalls. They have grown up with the scenery, they have been formed by it, it is in their bones, and they have been blessed by the cast-iron community bonds that such sublime surroundings inspire; it is on account of their total lack of individualism or atomisation that they have the confidence to leave the community behind.
In the end, it is a fledgling relationship that saves the village. Happer, isolated and lonely at the top of the corporate ladder (so much so that he pays for his quack-psychiatrist to insult and berate him in the hopes of some emotional breakthrough – laugh-out-loud interludes in the storytelling), travels to Ferness himself to close the deal. Negotiations have stalled when Ben the beachcomber refuses to sell his stake in the village, quite an important stake…the beach itself.
Star obsessed Happer arrives convinced that he can talk Ben round, but rather than a negotiation the interaction becomes a meeting of minds in which Ben convinces Happer that the beauty of the stars is a far better investment than oil. Ferness WILL BE SOLD, but so as to be an unspoiled spot where an astronomy observatory can be built. The unlikely relationship that blossoms between and billionare oil-baron and a bumbling beachcomber saves the landscape and the relationships which Mac has come to love so dearly.
In a world where technology and social media continue to atomise and divide us, while at the same time giving us simulated experiences and the simulacra of friendship, Local Hero is a gorgeous and glorious antidote. It reminds us of the vital importance and power of human relationships, the pinnacle of our experiences which even mediate the sublime power of Scottish coastal scenery. An important message, and if I may, a comfortably Christian message: for relationship is at the core of who God is as Trinity, relationship is at the core of what God wants as he creates the world to be in communion with him, and relationship is at the core of how God brings about our salvation as he comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ who calls us his brothers and sisters and friends.
Whoever you are and wherever you are, you should watch Local Hero immediately and be reminded of the beautiful and the sublime power of the natural world, and most importantly of all, the beautiful and the sublime power of human relationships.