Written by Richard LaGravenese and directed by Terry Gilliam, “The Fisher King” is a fantasy drama about tragedy and guilt set in New York City before the revolutionary clean up process that the city underwent before the late 90’s and into the 2000’s. Within that dirty and chaotic realm we find our protagonist Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) doing what he does best, delivering his fork-tongued critiques against the ‘yuppie’, high society, peoples of New York City. Think of him as a mesh between Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh (Less invested in pushing the taboo boundaries of broadcasting than the former, but with more inherent heart behind his words than the latter). One day Jack’s crazed rants lead him to specifically naming a restaurant where the rich and so called elitist gather. One of his listeners greatly agrees with the motor-mouth-shock-jock so much so that he shows up at the establishment with a shotgun, after all, like Jack Lucas said, “It’s us against them”.
Jack hears about the shooting and becomes completely unraveled by the actions that his words inspired. Fast forward three years later and we find Jack in the midst of an alcohol fueled, self-despising, slump where he works at his girlfriend Anne’s (Mercedes Ruehl in an Oscar winning performance) video store. One night on a drinking bender, Jack contemplates suicide, even going so far as to tie cinder blocks to his feet and looking out into the Hudson river. At the last second some thugs assault Jack, drenching him in gasoline and beating him. Fortunately for Jack, Parry (Robin Williams) arrives on the scene with a few fellow homeless nomads. They swarm the thugs with lights and singing until they disperse.
After saving his life, Parry consorts with the “Forty tiny, flying, invisible, fat men” to agree that Jack is “The One”. Naturally Jack is freaked out about all of this, hangover or not. Parry then explains that he’s a knight ordained by God to find the Holy Grail, which he believes to be in the possession of a billionaire on the upper east side. Initially Jack is reluctant to help Parry, until he learns that he’s responsible for ruining Parry’s former life. Parry, once named Henry, had been a college professor and happily married before the massacre. Henry and his wife were at that restaurant, where he watched her die horrifically right in front of him triggering a psychotic break. From that psychological wreckage, Parry was born.
Parry is driven by both love and fear. Jack discovers this after learning Parry’s true past and attempts to redeem himself by helping Parry. He does not simply want the grail though, he also sheepishly follows a young woman around the city on her daily routine. Parry has fallen in love with Lydia (Amanda Plummer), a quiet young woman who works at a book publishing house. So, Jack goes to great lengths to set them up on a dinner date with both himself and Anne. Jack also learns of Parry’s greatest fear, “The Red Knight”. The Red Knight appears whenever Parry is brushed by reality or when things seem too good to be true. After Parry has a particularly intense breakdown he’s attacked by the same thugs that accosted Jack earlier. This puts Parry into a catatonic state, which forces Jack to go search for the grail in an attempt to save Parry’s life.
There were a few specific aspects of this film that I found fascinating. Granted, Robin Williams drew me to this one as he’s probably my favorite actor of all time, so I’m always game to find another hidden gem of his work. But the film doesn’t go absolutely bananas with style over substance, if you’re familiar with Terry Gilliam’s work you can see flourishes of his guiding hand throughout the run-time. This is most obvious with the Red Knight, but also with the depiction of New York City itself. Gilliam uses framing, specific angles, and has the production dressed down in a sort of dirty and mythic fashion that transforms the feel of New York City into a place where the impossible seems optimistic and not so far away. The cinematography seems to be fairly character oriented in how it represents mood, how characters change over time, and how isolated or sociable a scene is for the characters. However, the single best aspect of the film is for me how the story treats trauma and how it can affect a person for a very long time. This aspect of Robin Williams’ performance was heartbreaking and how the filmmakers and crew decided to represent Parry’s fractured self was both tragic and it felt accurate. Paranoia and fear can strike at a moment’s notice, all emotions can run high at any time, and triggering events can be devastating.Fantasy Element. This was an interesting film from the early 1990’s and worth a watch in my opinion.
Final Score: 2 thugs and 40 tiny flying invisible fat men