Forgotten Friday: The Fisher King

I made a reference to The Fisher King in my last Forgotten Friday, and it occurred to me that it’s something of a “forgotten” film itself. The Fisher King was directed by Terry Gilliam in 1991, after he directed a string of high-budget, high-concept genre films that met with varying levels of success (Time Bandits, Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), and he’s gone on record as saying he directed it because he wanted to do something smaller and with a more commercial script written by someone other than him. As a result, it’s probably the most grounded film he’s ever directed, which may be why many people seem to have forgotten about it. But that’s a shame because while it may be more entrenched in reality than many of his films, it’s still very much an example of Gilliam at his imaginative best.

The movie stars Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams. Bridges plays Jack Lucas, a former shock jock dealing professionally and mentally with the fact that some pointed comments he made to a caller on his show motivated the caller to go on a shooting spree in Manhattan, killing many innocent people…one of whom happens to be the wife of Williams’ character, Parry. After the death of his wife, Parry became catatonic and when he emerged, he’d lost grip with reality and now lives homeless on the streets of New York. After he saves Jack from being mugged, the pair strike up an unlikely relationship that begins out of a sense of obligation Jack feels he owes to Parry, but soon develops into true friendship.

Where Gilliam’s unmistakable touch comes in is in the way Parry views the world. He sees himself as a modern knight out to retrieve the Holy Grail from the man he believes has taken it. He’s also tormented by a terrifying Red Knight who reveals himself to Parry every time he does something brave or confident. It’s the Red Knight, a stunning visual representation of the guilt and grief Parry feels over his wife’s death, that’s responsible for Parry’s inability to reenter society.

The Fisher King is a true dramatic comedy. There are moments of pure hilarity and moments of true poignancy and pathos, and I still can’t watch the last act without tearing up. True, it does idealize the problem of homelessness. The homeless characters in the film seem like playful deviants who are homeless simply because they live their lives a little differently than others, and to be honest, at times it makes their lives look more appealing than the characters who don’t live on the streets. But this isn’t meant to be a breakdown of our nation’s homeless problem. This is a movie about grief, friendship and forgiveness, and at that it’s a stunning success. It features two knockout performances from Bridges and Williams and it ends with them lying naked in Central Park. What more could you want?

Check out the trailer to The Fisher King below:

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