The Fisher King
Of all the films Terry Gilliam has made, this is the least Gilliamish, to coin a word. Usually he writes his own scripts, or at least contributes to the final draft. This one was written by Richard LaGravenese, who has penned some really fine movies. Gilliam’s films usually involve fantastical beasts and caricatures of humans, not something you can be emotionally involved with. This one displays raw human emotion, and real romance. And as such, it was a bit of a disappointment to me.
Jack (Jeff Bridges) is a radio shock jock who specializes in insulting his callers any way he can. One day he tells a caller that the trendy restaurant he intends to visit is a gathering place for disgusting yuppies, who really don’t deserve to live. The next day he wakes to the news that the caller has gone there with a shotgun and blown away seven yuppies, then himself. Jack pretty much falls apart, as any halfway decent person would.
Three years later he is working in a small video rental store (remember those?) with sort-of girlfriend Anne (Mercedes Ruehl), and still pretty fucked up. He crosses paths with homeless lunatic Parry (Robin Williams), and feels he owes him a debt because Parry saved him from being burned alive. He eventually learns that Parry was once a teacher at Hunter College, and his wife was one of the people whose brains were blown out by the maniac. Parry is on a quixotic quest for the Holy Grail, which he believes is owned by a billionaire who lives in a castle. (The exterior is Hunter College High School, a bizarre and wonderful castle that really is in the middle of Manhattan.) The efforts of Jack and Anne to bring Parry back to the real world by hooking him up with the woman (Amanda Plummer) he has idolized from afar backfire when it ends up making him remember the horror he has suppressed for three years, and Parry goes back into a catatonic state. The only way to bring him back, clearly, is to steal the Holy Grail.
The jolly madman who is actually saner than we “sane” people is a hard sell for me. The reality of insanity is much more grim than that. It strikes me as a too-easy trope for satire on the madness of our real world. And Robin Williams’ antics don’t really help me much here. It doesn’t ruin the picture for me, but it doesn’t attract me.
There is a good story here, and good performances by all concerned. And there is a truly magical scene in Grand Central Station where the evening rush is transformed by the commuters gradually beginning to waltz, until the whole huge space is filled with dancers. They filmed it from 8 PM until 5 AM, though it is lit to make it seem like it’s daylight outside. Truly magnificent!