Conan the Barbarian is a film about a young barbarian’s quest to avenge his parents’ deaths. The story is set in the fictional Hyborian Age, thousands of years before the rise of modern civilization. The film opens with the title card, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”, a paraphrasing of Friedrich Nietzsche,[nb 1] followed by a voice-over that establishes the film as the story of Conan’s origin.
After watching his father forge a sword,[nb 2] Conan is told of the Riddle of Steel, an aphorism on the importance of the metal to their people, the Cimmerians. Soon after, the Cimmerians are massacred by a band of warriors led by the evil wizard Thulsa Doom with Conan’s father killed by the band’s dogs. After watching his father’s newly forged sword being used by Doom to decapitate Conan’s mother, Conan is taken into slavery where he is chained to a large mill, the “Wheel of Pain”, for years. Having grown into a strong man, Conan is then sold to a new master and trained to be a gladiator. Eventually, after winning many pit fights, Conan is freed. While fleeing from wild dogs, Conan stumbles upon an ancient tomb and takes refuge inside it. Inside the tomb, he finds an Atlantean General’s ceremoniously displayed corpse along with his sword which he takes as his own. As he wanders the world, Conan encounters a young witch, with whom he has sex in exchange for information about Doom. However, she turns into a demon mid-coitus, forcing Conan to drive her off. Conan also befriends the witch’s captive Subotai, a thief and archer who becomes Conan’s companion.
Following the witch’s advice, Conan and Subotai go to Shadizar, in the land of Zamora, to seek out Doom. They meet Valeria, a female brigand. The three burgle the “Tower of Serpents”, a temple of Doom’s snake cult, and steal a large jewel—the Eye of the Serpent—and other valuables; Conan and Subotai also battle and slay a large snake, to which a girl was about to be sacrificed. After escaping with their loot, the thieves celebrate and end up in a drunken stupor. Conan and Valeria fall in love. The city guards capture them and bring them to King Osric. He requests they rescue his daughter, who has joined Doom’s cult. Subotai and Valeria do not want to take up the quest; Conan, motivated by his hatred for Doom, sets off alone to the villain’s Temple of Set.
Disguised as a priest, Conan infiltrates the temple but he is discovered, captured, and tortured. Doom lectures him on the power of flesh, which he demonstrates by compelling a girl to leap to her death. He then orders Conan crucified on the “Tree of Woe”. The barbarian is on the verge of death when he is discovered by Subotai and brought to Akiro, the Wizard of the Mounds and Conan’s future chronicler, who lives on a burial site for warriors and kings. The wizard summons spirits to heal Conan and warns that they will “extract a heavy toll”, which Valeria is willing to pay. These spirits also try to abduct Conan, but he is restored to health after Valeria and Subotai fend them off.
Subotai and Valeria agree to complete Osric’s quest with Conan and they infiltrate the Temple of Set as the cult indulges in a cannibalistic orgy. Though they succeed in getting away with the princess, Valeria is killed by Doom using a stiffened snake as an arrow. After cremating Valeria at the Mounds, Conan prepares with Subotai and Akiro to deal with Doom’s men through booby-traps and exploiting the terrain. During the fight, Valeria reappears for a brief moment as a Valkyrie to save Conan from a mortal blow.Conan recovers his father’s sword during the fight, although its blade is broken. After losing his men, Doom shoots another stiffened snake at the princess. Subotai blocks the shot and the villain flees to his temple.
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