Remembering Robin Williams: THE FISHER KING
Hearing about the tragic end of Robin Williams is almost like someone telling you that your favorite uncle just passed away. First comes the disbelief that he’s actually gone, then the near-numbing shock after processing it all in, and finally flipping through a highlight reel of all your favorite memories of him.
All of us here at Agents of Geek send our thoughts and condolences to Williams’ friends and family while we ourselves take the time to remember him in our own way. Over the next few days, you’ll notice that each of us at Agents of Geek will be submitting a feature about one of our favorite Robin Williams movies. This is Part Two or our series. You can read Part One by following this link.
Hook has and always will be my all-time favorite movie, period. It captures the importance of maintaining some semblance of a childhood even if you’re approaching your 40s and beyond. But that’s not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to talk about Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King.
If you’ve never seen the The Fisher King, it’s never too late. I only just watched it recently by chance, and again just before I started writing this. The film is “mostly funny and exhilarating: at once nightmarish and deeply romantic, a partly fantastic study in loneliness, lunacy, despair and violence, it’s also spectacularly visual” (Time Out).
The Fisher King follows arrogant shock jock, Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges). At the beginning of the movie, Jack says something insensitive to a frequent caller of the show. This prompts the caller to commit mass murder/suicide in a swanky Manhattan bar. Three years later, Jack is working at a video store and living with his girlfriend. He’s often plagued by the consequences of his past and drinks heavily. One night, Jack’s desperation becomes more than he can bare and he tries to commit suicide. He’s interrupted (and beaten) by angry thugs who then began pouring gasoline all over him. Enter Parry (Robin Williams) and his merry band of bums to save the day. Parry, as we find out, is a deluded homeless man on a mission to find the fabled Holy Grail. He tries to convince Jack that he is the one who can help him retrieve the Grail. Jack is reluctant at first until he discovers that Parry and his wife were victims of the mass shooting at the club three years ago — his wife was one of the first to be killed, and the traumatic event sent Parry to a mental institution. Feeling responsible, Jack is compelled to help Parry.
The thing about Parry is that he’s crazy. Like, full-blown Don Quixote who fancies himself a chivalrous knight. But Parry is a knight disguised as a vagabond, and he’s full of delusions of grandeur. What makes this Parry character so much more tragic is that as soon as he gains some semblance of self confidence (or if he stumbles upon a piece of information that reminds him of his former life) he spirals into a panic and begins to see a flaming red knight. This evil knight is most likely trauma personified, which Parry can’t face. If the knight catches him, Parry will fall into a catatonic state from which there’s no telling how long it’d take for him to wake up.
Robin Williams never half-asses his characters. Not a single one. He is most known for going off on his wild tangents, sometimes they’re incoherent and (admittedly) unnecessary. When playing a character like Parry, who’s driven mad by grief, he has free reign to do whatever the hell he likes. He throws himself into a character who is warm, fanciful and quixotic (despite his disposition), lively and unpredictable. This side, we’re used to. But then there moments when things start to get serious for Parry.
Williams turns on an emotion that’s completely disarming to those who least expect it. As Parry, Williams falls into a downward spiral of fear and despair. You can literally feel his losing all sense of reality as he flashes back to his wife’s massacre. It’s almost hypnotizing how well Williams loses himself in the characters he plays. Watching him play Parry is truly inspiring. Like I said before, you don’t get his usual schtick. Sure he’s humorous, but his performance is layered with off-color jokes, optimism, love, desperation, sadness… You can almost feel every single one of them. Just thinking about it now brings me to tears.
Tonight we shall look for some clouds shapes floating in the night sky, in the middle of a park…in the buff.