Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Fisher King (1991)

The Fisher KingThis is the one for which Robin Williams should have received an Oscar; for as Parry, the victim of a senseless tragedy, he is nothing short of brilliant in "The Fisher King," directed by Terry Gilliam and co-starring Jeff Bridges (who also gives an Oscar-worthy performance here). Gilliam has created the perfect mood and atmosphere to tell the story of successful radio talk-show host Jack Lucas (Bridges), and the homeless and mentally unhinged Parry, whose lives intersect in the wake of an act of unconscionable violence that leaves them both barely clinging to the memory of a reality that no longer exists for either of them. With this movie, Gilliam has deftly crafted a study of the symbiotic existence of mankind and the impact of human nature upon the space we all must share in a world growing smaller day by day. Through Jack's eyes, Gilliam examines the nature of cause and effect, and the results thereof, and Jack's story ultimately becomes Parry's story, and aptly illustrates how the needs of one become the necessity of another, and what it means to finally be able to look beyond ourselves and delve beneath those layers of contemporary frivolity we all manage to build, which in the end are nothing more than pretentious insulations that keep us from the things in life that really matter. Even as Jack's own act of irresponsibility comes back to haunt him and make him question his own values to the very core of his being, Parry receives the brunt of it all from the other end of the spectrum, with consequences even more dire, though for both the result of their shared circumstance is life-altering. Williams gives a masterful performance here that illuminates so well how thin the line between comedy and drama really is. He brings the complex, tragic figure of Parry to the screen flawlessly, with attitude, expression and even body language that is impeccable, and all without a single false moment to be found anywhere throughout (by comparison, even as good as he was in "Good Will Hunting," for which he received the B.S.A. Oscar, under close scrutiny you'll find a moment or two there that do not ring true). This is quite simply the best work he's ever done, before or since, and he's given the cinematic world an unforgettable character that will undoubtedly make a lasting impression on anyone who sees this film. And, though Williams grabs the lion's share of the spotlight here, he by no means overshadows Jeff Bridges, who has also created a memorable character in Jack. He brings a depth to this role through which he readily displays the many different levels upon which Jack works and lives, from the egotistical, self-centered to the compassionate; it's like watching a struggle for domination going on within him, and waiting to find out which side will ultimately emerge triumphant. It's an exemplary performance, and it's a gross miscarriage of justice that Bridges didn't at least receive a nomination for Best Actor for this one. Proving, however, that justice does, at times, get it's due, Mercedes Ruehl was awarded the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her personable portrayal of Anne, the fulcrum upon which Jack and Parry dramatically balance their tender and tentative psyches. Like Bridges and Williams, she gives a performance here that is totally credible, and she's a delight to watch. One of the strengths of this movie, in fact, is the incredible performances; and it's so gratifying to see such a good story brought to life and made so real through artistic endeavor. In a supporting role, Michael Jeter demands to be singled out for his part as the homeless Cabaret Singer, and also Amanda Plummer, as the hapless and endearing Lydia, both of whom are just additional parts of the aggregate that make this such a great movie. With "The Fisher King," Gilliam has given us a wonderfully textured morality tale, both entertaining and engaging and rich with metaphor and substance that will endure the test of time, because it is, in the end, a story for the ages. This is definitely one you do not want to let pass you by.

The Fisher King is a representational movie. It makes use of Arthurian legend, and parallels the legend of the Fisher King with the lives of the two main protagonists Parry (Robin Williams) and Jack (Jeff Bridges). Symbolism and metaphorical techniques are utilisied extensively throughout the film, which makes it an extremely visual experience to watch. However, the symbolism extends beyond the visual plane, to a very psychological one. For example, Parry's creation of a fantastical world full of 'little fat people' and the 'Red Knight', is very much representative of his own mental condition; the fantasy world, minus the Red Knight, represents Parry's acceptance/ignorance of his mental trauma. At the same time the Red Knight is symbolic of the pain and suffering as caused by the trauma itself.

Whenever Parry shows glimpes of sanity (lucid speech, dating, feeling love again, etc.), the Red Knight always appears in his life. While the Red Knight is at bay Parry is not catatonic or overwrought by his trauma. To overcome/accept the trauma of seeing his wife murdered before his eyes, ultimately Parry has to confront the Red Knight and vanguish him. However, he lacks the insight and strength to do this on his own. Enter Jack who ultimately feels responsible for Parry's condition! Jack is the equivalent of the fool or simpleton from the story of the Fisher King. Jack's intent is one of redemption, while he is absorbed into Parry's world. Eventually Jack begins to understand Parry's need for the Holy Grail, which represents Acceptance of Loss. If Parry is able to possess the Holy Grail, then he shall be able to vanguish Insanity as represented by the Red Knight.

While there are elements of fantasy and Arthurian legend woven into this story, there is also a theme of Christianity. Originally Jack is driven by a need to regain the former glory of his life when he was a successful talkback radio host. He wants that life back and believes that by helping Parry, he will overcome his guilt, and thus be able to resume his former life. Jack feels a false resolution in his life when he regains his former life. However, ultimately, when Jack agrees to undertake the quest for the Holy Grail, only then do his motives become self-less. He helps Parry because he wants to, not because he needs to drive away his own guilt this is very much part of the Christian Doctrine.

On the whole, The Fisher King is an intricate weaving of comedy, drama and tragedy. The direction by Gilliam is faultless, his attention to detail evident especially in the Chinese Restaurant scene, where he borrows from Chinese film-making techniques, using the vertical black bar wipe technique.

This is the type of movie which, on a superficial level, is only somewhat satisfying. However, it is on the psychological level where its real impact is felt tragic, hopeful and uplifting. It is not the type of movie to watch if you are expecting to be entertained!

Buy The Fisher King (1991) Now

I have a passionate love for the Arthurian legends. To paraphrase Robertson Davies, however, these tales have a poor history of being adapted to stage or screen. "Camelot", "Excalibur", "First Knight", "Prince Valiant" -if you really love the tales, you know just how short these films fall.

Then there is The Fisher King.

No, you won't find King Arthur here. You won't find Camelot or Guenivere or the Questing Beast. What you WILL find is the essence of the Grail story. Parry (Robin Williams) is Percival the Fool as well as The Fisher King himself; Jack (Jeff Bridges) is a fallen king-of-radio. Both are wounded and in a related manner. Neither faces his problems head on. Each needs another to pave the way to forgiveness, acceptance, and redemption. The ultimate physical object that leads to this may be a swimming trophy, but it is also the Holy Grail itself. Why? Because it truly is, if you only believe.

Along the way you meet the not-so-in-distress damsels (Mercedes Ruehl won an Oscar for best supporting actress; Amanda Plummer, who deserved one as well), the company of knights-errant (the homeless of New York City), an evil Red Knight, two even more evil local toughs, and the false-prophets from the land of television. Each of these is a person, or a type, from our own world. They also happen to fit the tales of the Holy Grail rather well. Forced comparisons? I leave that to the individual viewer to decide, but I found the characterizations marvelous. This is not a film about Real Life, but it is a film about something truer, something closer to the soul.

This is a film that deserves multiple veiwings. If nothing else you are going to want to see the scene in Grand Central Station more than once (if you know the movie, you know what I'm talking about; if not, you are in for a beautiful treat). This is a film that teeters between rampant silliness and powerful truths. Somehow it never feels schmaltzy, forced, or preachy.

Watch this film.

Let the little man dance!

Read Best Reviews of The Fisher King (1991) Here

I hadn't seen this film since it first came out on video. I remembered certain things about it: that I had enjoyed it, that the Holy Grail played prominently in it, and that Jeff Bridges was very good in it.

Those are all still true.

Jack Lucas (Bridges) is a radio "shock jock" who inadvertently causes a listener to go on a killing rampage. This affects him deeply and he quits the business, turns to alcohol, and moves in with Anne (Mercedes Ruehl), the owner of Video Spot!, a store which seems to carry as many porn titles as mainstream ones.

He is deeply depressed. One night, when he is about to end it, he gets attacked by thugs who mistake him for homeless. His life is saved by a group of homeless led by "Parry" (Robin Williams), a former history professor whose wife was killed in the aforementioned massacre. Parry has engulfed himself in the world of medieval knights (a "parry" is a type of sword thrust)--changing his name as well--and has received a mission from pixies to capture a trophy cup (which he believes is the Grail) located in a millionaire's castle-style home. Jack feels he must pay his penance by helping Parry retrieve the cup.

One thing that is holding Parry back is that he is continually besieged by the Red Knight (a hallucination that represents the trauma which with Parry is not yet ready to cope, that is, it only shows up whenever something reminds him of his past). Along the way, Parry falls in love with a publishing accountant and Jack and Anne do their best to get the ultra-shy couple together.

Terry Gilliam somehow brings this combination of Arthurian legend and modern New York together into a successful whole. Of course, the script by Richard LaGravanese is also first-rate. This is one of the most original films I have ever seen. Decisively top-rate entertainment.

Want The Fisher King (1991) Discount?

This is one of my favorite films. For the most part it is solid but does take some thought and knowledge about how people deal with trauma. Although it falters at times and has a few artistic distractions it does teach several good lessons. To understand the meaning of the title one must know the story of the Fisher King. There are many variations of the legend and one very simplistic version is sort of given in the film and will not be repeated here. The Legend of the Fisher King deals with a man who was injured as a young man (again many variations of how) and suffered from these wounds throughout his life. His only respite was to be taken fishing. He eventually became the penultimate master of the Grail Castle. Every evening the Grail, Platen and spear would be brought out and those suffering would be healed. That is, all except for the Fisher King. The Fisher King could not be healed until someone asked him a specific question. The Fisher King did not need to know the answer to the question. As the years passed, nobody ever asked the question until one day, on his second visit to the Grail Castle, Percival, asked the question, "Whom does the Grail serve?" The Fisher king realized that the Grail did not serve to make him great but that it served those in need. He was humbled and his wounds healed. (He died several days later and Percival became the last master of the Grail Castle.) The film deals with this dilemma in Jack. Jack can not be healed until he understands "whom the Grail serves." Jack tries to help Parry so that Jack will be healed so Jack can get on with Jack's life. It is only at the end of the film that Jack does the first unselfish thing that he has ever done in his life. Jack is the only character that grows emotionally. Of course, this act has nothing to do with Parry's condition improving. Parry is not crazy and Parry is not demented. Parry was a high functioning person until he witnesses his wife's head taking a shotgun blast. Parry regresses into a fugue state and takes on an alternate identity. He takes on a character that will, in metaphor, deal with what he witnessed. What Parry lost was intimacy and in his psychological struggle to cope with that loss he is both chased by and chases the last image of intimacy he recalls. Any emotional closeness, even with Jack, triggers these flashbacks although the image is distorted through the metaphor of his fugue state and becomes the red knight/ (representing his wife's violent death.) Parry does not become psychotic until Jack replaces Parry's fantasized intimacy with real intimacy and gets him "the date". The distortion is shattered; the metaphor no longer replaces the reality of Parry's last memory of his wife because the intimacy is psychologically too close to what Parry had lost. His Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) flashback is no longer the Red knight but the reliving of the actual trauma. Parry's psyche is forced to regress further and he become catatonic. This is the mind's way of calling a time-out. With time he eventually returns to his previous fugue state and that is where the film leaves him. Although not for everyone and not always consistent, it is an excellent film if you are willing to pay attention and not get distracted by Hollywood smarm.

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