From the Vault: The Fisher King (1991)

Before I was the Fraker I was John Doe and like everything else in this universe all cinema itself is interconnected on a molecular level. Slowly over time I plan to import many of my older reviews over to this new site under the banner of FROM THE VAULT. The format is simple, anytime I review a film here and it can be thematically (actor, Director, narrative etc) linked to a previous critique from the old site I will be sharing. When a review or article can coincide with a real world event like a retro-screening, personal curiosity or current event can be reflected, transfers happen.

Farewell Robin Williams

Today Robin Williams died. My heart is broken. Depression often comes with tormented genius and the psychological pain he suffered must have been as immense as his talent. A sad day, part of my psyche was shaped at 8 years old by Mork from Ork (my inner-child still carries his voice). His stand up in 1982’s AN EVENING WITH ROBIN WILLIAMS was played repeatedly until I could recite the show verbatim. Williams range as an actor, his willingness to expose his humanity, his vulnerability was just as limitless as his comedic gifts. Throughout his career he proved inspirational for the bravery of his performances. At once manic, beaming with energy and that impish gleam of mischief in the eye, in a blink, cold, unsettling and internalizing pain, fragile one moment, threatening an emotional explosion the next. He didn’t mind showing the dark truths, he dared to be unlikable while having the ability to be lovable and empathetic. The films I like of his, I love.  Beyond his skill there is a nostalgia at play certainly, watching my MORK & MINDY DVD’s last night I couldn’t stop sobbing. I feel a part of my childhood is lost, his life had an impact on who I am and I will never get a chance to thank him for that. All I can do is pay tribute the best way I know how, so here’s a review for my favourite of Robin William’s films, THE FISHER KING.



Fisher King Poster

Fisher King Poster

Director: Terry Gilliam
Writer: Richard LaGravenese (The Ref, Paris Je T’aime)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Mercedes Ruehl, Robin Williams, Amanda Plummer, Tom Waits, Harry Shearer, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Jeter

“It begins with the king as a boy, having to spend the night alone in the forest to prove his courage so he can become king. Now while he is spending the night alone he’s visited by a sacred vision. Out of the fire appears the holy grail, symbol of God’s divine grace. And a voice said to the boy, “You shall be keeper of the grail so that it may heal the hearts of men.” But the boy was blinded by greater visions of a life filled with power and glory and beauty. And in this state of radical amazement he felt for a brief moment not like a boy, but invincible, like God, so he reached into the fire to take the grail, and the grail vanished, leaving him with his hand in the fire to be terribly wounded. Now as this boy grew older, his wound grew deeper. Until one day, life for him lost its reason. He had no faith in any man, not even himself. He couldn’t love or feel loved. He was sick with experience. He began to die. One day a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. And being a fool, he was simple minded, he didn’t see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain. And he asked the king, “What ails you friend?” The king replied, “I’m thirsty. I need some water to cool my throat”. So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water and handed it to the king. As the king began to drink, he realized his wound was healed. He looked in his hands and there was the holy grail, that which he sought all of his life. And he turned to the fool and said with amazement, “How can you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?” And the fool replied, “I don’t know. I only knew that you were thirsty.” – Parry


The Fisher King is like the Grimm Brothers flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and descended to earth as an eccentric romance. A real world morality fable complete with all the fairytale love, tragedy and imagination to show life’s simple magic.

the-fisher-kingFree thinking Director Terry Gilliam tries to lobotomize his Python leanings and teeters on the edge of truth with this comedy/drama of human entanglement. Warped sanity ebbs and flows, pathos thrives but there is no doubt we are in our own fragile lexicon. Not the recesses of Gilliam’s daydreams.
“He’s payin’ so he don’t have to look. See… guy goes to work every day, eight hours a day, seven days a week. Gets his nuts so tight in a vice that he starts questioning the very fabric of his existence. Then one day, ’bout quitting time, Boss calls him into the office and says, “Hey Bob, whyncha come on in here and kiss my ass for me, will you?” Well, he says, “Hell with it. I don’t care what happens, I just want to see the expression on his face as I jab this pair of scissors into his arm.” – Disabled Veteran

It’s the tail end of the over indulgent 80’s, Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) is a hedonistic, callous Howard Stern inspired DJ whose heinous persona one day reaches the ears of a psychologically volatile audience member. Burdened with the consequences of his frivolous on air words that day the story leaps forward 3 years.

movie-murders-the-fisher-king2-590x350Jack’s confidence is shattered, his conscience is berating him and the burden of guilt dictates his detachment from life. Miraculously Anne (Mercedes Ruehl) a strong no bullshit, no strings attached companion tolerates his destructive moodiness and invests emotionally in his redemption.
“I don’t believe that God made man in his image. ‘Cause most of the shit that happens comes from man. No, I think man was made in the Devil’s image. And women were created out of God. ‘Cause after all, women can have babies, which is kind of like creating. And which also accounts for the fact that women are so attracted to men… ’cause let’s face it… the Devil is a hell of a lot more interesting! Believe me, I’ve slept with some saints in my day, I know what I’m talking about. So the whole point in life is for men and women to get married… so that God and the Devil can get together and work it out. Not that we have to get married. God forbid.” – Anne

Blinded by his own egocentric struggle, failing to see the sanctuary afforded him, one night Jack breaks down and launches on a suicidal drinking binge. Maniacally wandering the streets of New York he stumbles into violence.

Beaten by thugs and about to be set alight his savior arrives in the form of Parry (Robin Williams), a homeless, issue laden screwball with horrific past trauma. Unable to cope with reality Parry has constructed a delusional existence that sees him on a medieval quest for the Holy Grail.
“C’mon, Jack, what do you think the Crusades were? A Pope’s publicity stunt?” – Parry

A tenuous, therapeutic symbiosis between the pair develops as they unite in a battle for redemptive sanity against the abstract villainy conjured by the Red Knight of Parry’s waking nightmare.

“You ever read any Nietzsche? Nietzsche says there’s two kinds of people in the world: people who are destined for greatness like Walt Disney… and Hitler. Then there’s the rest of us, he called us “the bungled and the botched.” We get teased. We sometimes get close to greatness, but we never get there. We’re the expendable masses. We get pushed in front of trains, take poison aspirin… get gunned down in Dairy Queens.” –Jack Lucas

bannerJohn Doe says:
Rich in subtext, ripe in empathy The Fisher King exists on an existential plain of ethereal understanding. Exploring the philosophical quandaries of life, symbolism lurks in the dialogue; visual metaphors are shrouded within its celluloid cells. Just beneath the surface of this traditional comedic drama you discover ambiguity and mythical allegory open to multiple interpretations.

According to Gilliam – “It was an interesting exercise because I was trying to NOT make a Terry Gilliam film.” (Quote from The Directors- Take 2 by Robert J Emery)

Despite his best efforts thankfully the Director’s trademarks do still surface. As with most of the Directors work (12 Monkeys, Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) meaning is subjective making the misfit characters and their outrageous adventure akin to a surreal anxiety attack. The unforgettable waltz in New York’s Central Station could only come from his mind’s eye.

Still, this is a far more restrained and accessible effort that lingers on the edge of a more traditional type of filmmaking.

fisherking1The incisive script by Richard LaGravenese (The Ref, Paris Je T’aime) is exceptionally speckled with wisdom through fully illustrated characters. The stellar performances from the cast form a grounded structure that entertains the audience even when slightly bewildered.

Fearlessly creating a role that could be unsympathetic Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski,Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Tron) manages a charismatic charm that brings humanity to Jack’s tortured soul.

Robin Williams (One Hour Photo, The World According to Garp) exuberance is balanced with a tender compassion that never becomes overly sentimental as it does in so many of his lesser movies. This could well be the ultimate balancing between his two personas of serious thespian and hyperactive comedian.

The often ignored skills of Mercedes Reuhl (Heartburn, Married to the Mob, Lost in Yonkers) provides the skeptical grounding that acts as the crazy glue to balance deeper emotion against the more fantastical elements.

Amanda Plummer will forever be connected to her “Honey Bunny” moment in Pulp Fiction but here she shines with shy eccentricity and nervous energy.

Over the years John Doe’s love for this film has grown with each fresh viewing. This latest revisit finally cements it as one of the all time great studies of relationships and their wider effect on the world. To pigeon hole the film within a genre does it a disservice but for today anyway let’s just say JD laughed, cried and contemplated the beauty and tenderness to be found.


Trailer for The FISHER KING


Robin Williams tells the story of THE FISHER KING 

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