What more could you want than Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges going toe to toe in a battle of insecurities and charming wit?
“Behold my magic wand and free your golden orbs” what a fabulous technique for flirting from William’s character Parry. It has been 30 years since this quirky little film blessed our screens with its fantasy like bromance – such a whimsical tale with a mystical meaning. The Fisher King is an obscure retelling of sorts about the Holy Grail story, which feels highly ironic seeing as there is a python in the director’s seat as well.
For those of you who don’t know, The Fisher King is about a radio jockey called Jack (Bridges) who causes an unstable caller (after some harsh words) to walk into a bar and open fire on the unsuspecting punters. Jack soon becomes depressed, but then meets a victim of the shootings, Parry (Williams), and attempts to help him so he can help himself – how noble of him.
There are a variety of things this film focuses on; it uses the social status of New York very specifically, very early on you get an inkling of the social divide that will be highlighted. Along with this, the film focuses on self-destructiveness, self-worth, depression, friendship, redemption, and love, quite the astute collection of feelings to explore.
Now, I am by no means bias – at least I try not to be – but when two cinema greats such as Bridges and Williams come together (two of my all-time favourites), you know something magical is afoot – the birth of a stone cold classic. Williams is magnificent; the way he interchanges his personas so fluidly, the psychotic episodes are also fabulously exciting – he activates full on breakdown mode – if it wasn’t for Sir Anthony Hopkins as a certain Hannibal Lecter, Williams would have walked away with that year’s Oscar. Let’s not forget about Bridges either, he is equal to Williams in his own way, fluttering between his own set of emotions very powerfully.
The great performances don’t end there though, the supporting characters are beautifully kooky and strangely alluring. Plummer is the eccentric love interest of Williams (she lives in cuckoo land with him), there are even appearances from Michael Jeter and Tom Waites as two figures of the homeless community who have their own unique part to play. However, it is Mercedes Ruehl that was the surprise package, a real stand-out as Bridge’s love interest, her Oscar win for best actress really proves how well she competed against the two headliners.
So, let’s talk about the film, it begins with Jack Lucas, a famous radio shock jock and downright dirt bag to be honest. Jack answers a call to a troubled listener, gives the guy some terrible advice, which leads the guy to walk into a bar and shoot multiple people, then turning the gun on himself – a slight overreaction maybe – the news troubles Jack, and he slips into a deep depression. 3 years later, Jack lives with his girlfriend Anne (Ruehl) in her video store (remember those?) and drinks heavily every night. One night he attempts suicide by jumping into the river, where he is attacked by thugs and then swiftly saved by a courageous knight, or could it just be Parry? Jack learns that Parry’s wife was a victim of the shooter, which severely scarred Parry to the point he became a homeless hermit with a new personality.
Parry tells Jack about the Holy Grail, something he craves and claims that it is hidden in a building in New York’s upper east, as well as explaining the story of The Fisher King, an old Arthurian legend, whilst naked (I honestly forgot how hairy Williams was). Parry also shows Jack the woman he has been following (yep, just a normal bit of stalking) a very odd and shy woman called Lydia (Plummer). With Parry more than smitten with her, Jack attempts to set him up with this mysterious woman, which leads to a genuinely odd, but slightly endearing date. With Jack now happy with his good deed, he slips back into his old selfish ways, leaving everything behind until he is dragged back in again by his guilt due to a catastrophic event.
The score and the framing techniques work so well together to create these feelings of pain, anxiety, and all their other insecurities, these characters possess so many different layers, they are not black and white, more like a splash of every other colour. The red knight used in the psychotic visions was extremely creepy and a great interpretation of all those feelings mentioned above, very clever to associate it with an Arthurian legend once again also. Guilt is an important signifier in this film, like a story out of the bible with so much attached meaning.
This film is a bit of me, it really is. I loved revisiting it after so many years as well, it allowed me to appreciate its messages and everything it stood for, instead of just an enjoyable eccentric comedy. It is quite dark at times, which gives it a change of pace, but it ends in such a lovely way – the finale was perfectly ridiculous and a very justified ending for the film. You cannot help but like all the characters – even if they are crazy – you can tell that Gilliam’s python experience had something of an impression on this peculiar bunch of people.
I feel like The Fisher King is often overlooked by many and I can’t help but wonder why – like, seriously. It kind of has it all, there are so many creative nuances that enhance its narration throughout. If anything, it could possibly be seen as being too silly, but this is Gilliam film (he directed Brazil for gods’ sake), so surely it isn’t too much of a surprise. Don’t worry Terry, I loved every minute of it.
The Fisher King is available to rent from certain VOD platforms now.