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on December 27, 2001
Terry Gilliam's post-Python oeuvre usually strikes me as rather cold and overly intellectualized. I 'like' his movies very much, but can rarely get close enough to 'love' them. "Brazil" and "Twelve Monkeys" being chief offenders in this complaint. I enjoyed their visions of futuristic dystopias, but never felt involved on an emotional level. Sure, "Baron Munchausen" tickled my whimsy-bone, and "Time Bandits" gave me kid-sized guffaws, but both those films also had a good dose of textbook thinking behind them, enough to keep the audience always an arm's length away.
"The Fisher King", like no other film in Gilliam's catalog, hits me on an emotional level. It is a visceral experience, unlike anything else I've seen from this offbeat director. Layered with tangible romance and pathos, Gilliam has created a film that will stand the test of time, even when its highbrow ideas become irrelevant.
Two scenes in particular illustrate the human beauty that this film is so adept at conveying. The first involves Parry (Robin Williams) and his daily routine: watching and following Lydia (Amanda Plummer), his from-afar crush, on her morning commute to work. Camped out in Grand Central Station, all we see are the throngs of people crowding and pushing their way to their trains. But when Parry sees Lydia, all that stops. Or rather, it changes. The music starts, tasteful glowing light emanates from the ceiling, and all the commuters take partners for a waltz. It's a ridiculously sublime moment, beautiful in all ways. It goes on until Parry suddenly loses Lydia in the crowd, and the dancing abruptly stops.
The other scene also involves Parry and Lydia, who are this time joined by Jack (Jeff Bridges) and Anne (Mercedes Ruehl). After scheming to get Lydia to come to dinner with them, Jack and Anne sit back to watch Parry try and woo her. His does so in the most childlike and endearing way: by imitating her clumsiness, her awkwardness, and her shyness. It's a mostly wordless scene, punctuated by the sight of dropped dumplings, Parry's stirring rendition of "Lydia the Tattooed Lady", and Jack and Anne themselves getting caught up in the romance.
But don't get me wrong. The whole movie isn't sweetness and light. There are actually some terribly horrific scenes, most of them psychological in nature.
Jack is a former radio shock-jock, whose off-handed remark drove a listener to spray a yuppie restaurant with bullets. He's now down on his luck, drunk, and of the belief that he's eternally doomed, his karma forever destroyed by that one moment. Bridges gets both sides of Jack's persona right. He's slimy and selfish when on top of the world. Dirty, dreary, and dead inside when stuck in the gutter (a side curiosity: I count eight times Bridges has played a character named Jack, and that doesn't even include the surname of his character in the "Last Picture Show" movies).
Parry, even more so than Jack, is tormented by psychological demons. He is connected to Jack in a horrific way, one that I am loath to divulge here. A former university professor, Parry has taken on the insane alter ego of a homeless knight. Williams shines in this role, his boundless energy and improvisational spirit giving some much needed light to what could have been a dark character. Not that the darkness doesn't shine through. Parry, stalked by a mysterious Red Knight riding an unholy steed, has a series of near breakdowns. Williams has to show both the unbalanced side of Parry, and the one that used to exist, functioning within society. He does well on both counts. (N.B., the movie takes on greater meaning when you realize that Parry is short of Parsifal, an important character in another story about the search for the Holy Grail; recommended reading)
Plummer and Ruehl do important work as the women driving the men to great deeds. Plummer, an unconventional beauty, makes you believe Lydia's shyness and sadness, while also understanding why Parry has become so smitten with her. Ruehl, dressed her in her tackiest Erin Brockovich clothes, doesn't get as much as she gives from Bridges' Jack. But she plays Anne as a strong but wounded woman, caught between a need to love and nurture Jack, and a desire to get away from his harmful nature.
This is Gilliam's second quest-for-the-Holy-Grail picture. Although off-centre at times, this might be his most cohesive movie, utilizing a fairly standard three-act structure to go along with it's quest theme. Don't worry, Gilliam fans, the director's trademark esoteric visuals survive intact. Manhattan is captured as a gorgeous, but dangerously labyrinthine, wonderland. The screenplay, by Richard LaGravenese, throws in literary and historical allusions, weaving themes and motifs effortlessly throughout. It saddens me that, except for the marvelous "The Ref", LaGravenese has wasted the considerable talent he shows here, turning out schlock after schlock during the years following this, his initial triumph.
"The Fisher King", billed as a modern Arthurian fable, lives up to that description. Crass commercial culture, shock radio, homelessness, and even a sly reference to the nascent AIDS epidemic form the backdrop for this remarkable story, which mixes the entire range of human emotions in a very satisfying and entertaining stew.
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on February 24, 2004
Somehow I managed to miss The Fisher King in its first run theatre edition. My wife and I went to see a different film several years ago and it was surprisingly playing as a double-feature, and to this day I was so struck by this film that I can't remember what the other film was we originally went to see. The Fisher King is a remarkable achievement and tremendously uplifting. It expresses one of the universe's great truths: a being is only as valuable as he can help others. The point where a person feels he cannot help or is a detriment to others is where he begins to die. Jeff Bridge's character can only redeem himself and his life when he proves to himself that he can actually help Robbin Williams' character. While it might be argued that the film is too pat or simplistic in dealing with the issues of insanity -- that's not the message of the film. It's not meant to be a documentary statement. It is an artistic statement and delivers a very important message for our modern culture, that the ability and willingness to help those around you is what makes self-respect possible. If you have an excessively cynical nature you will probably have little time for this film. At the same time, this is a film that would be the best thing for you to watch at least 3 or 4 times back to back until you get the message. I rate The Fisher King as one of my top 5 favorite films of all time and recommend it highly.
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on December 20, 2011
Fisher King [Blu-ray]

I was thrilled to see that this flick was available on blu ray. This is probably one of my favourite shows featuring Robin Williams. The combination of he, and Jeff Bridges, works well. The story will run you through several emotions, as a lot of (IIRC) Williams' stuff around that era did - it's neither pure comedy, nor pure drama, but a fine mix of both. Purchasing this movie, either on DVD or blu ray, is a given. It seemed to me that the DVD was hard to come by for several years after its initial printing, so scooping up the blu ray while it is available seemed like the smart choice.
As for the technical quality of the blu ray...I dunno. The pleasure of this movie is really rooted in the story, the acting. I can't say that any one aspect of the blu ray transfer stood out better than the VHS & DVD versions I've watched in the past; if you have hidef equipment, it probably looks better than an upconverted DVD on said equipment. The A/V quality just isn't an element of the flick that registered on me - it was done well enough that it didn't matter.
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on August 26, 2002
A breathtakingly beautiful film. The Fisher King is one of the most perfectly executed movies of all time, from the stunning and highly imaginative screenplay to the haunting quality of the direction and the sheer genius of Williams and Bridges, who both turned in the performance of a lifetime. Add to that a supporting cast made in heaven and you basically can't go wrong.
While the film succeeds brilliantly even as a basic story of star-crossed individuals working out their joint karma, it is the concept of the soul's journey homeward that drives the deeper levels of The Fisher King.
As Barbara G. Walker and others have pointed out, the Grail is actually a representation of the Womb of the Great Mother, from which we all came, and to which we shall all return. Like Finnegan and Bloom/Ulysses, The Fisher King's two heroes find salvation in the simplicity of surrender and in the almost Faustian embracing of the Sacred Feminine, as embodied by the two female leads. Carrie Moss's Trinity (The Triple Goddess) also provides this transcendent nurturing to Keanu Reeves's character in The Matrix.
If you were to buy The Fisher King, The Matrix, Groundhog Day and Jacob's Ladder, you would have in your possession some of the most profound philosophical insights in the history of the human race.
A true masterpiece. Dang, it even features a cameo by Tom Waits.
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on July 1, 2002
In my humble opinion, Terry Gilliam is a genius -- without question one of the most talented and imaginative direcors working in film today. All of his work -- BRAZIL, TIME BANDITS, 12 MONKEYS, &c -- stands up head and shoulders above almost everything else the motion picture industry spews out, but THE FISHER KING is, I believe, his greatest achievement.
All of the actors are superbly cast -- and each of them throws themselves completely into their assigned roles, to the point of BECOMING their character, which, unless I miss my guess, is what acting is about. Robin Williams couldn't be more perfect as Perry, the heartsick man with a shattered heart, who has lost his beloved wife in an act of senseless violence. Jeff Bridges, as the radio 'shock-jock' whose flippant comment to a disturbed listener triggered the shooting, is utterly convincing as the guilt-ridden Jack, locked into a downward spiral, despite the love and care vested on him by his girlfriend (Mercedes Reuhl). Then there's Amanda Plummer, portraying the hapless, mousy Lydia -- with whom, as soon as he sees her, Williams falls head over heels in love.
There are four characters here in a great deal of pain, each trying in their own way to deal with it -- with varying degrees of succcess. The way in which their paths cross, and merge, in this story, and the impact they have on each other's lives, makes for one of the most moving tales of love/pain/healing that has ever been brought to the screen. Gilliam's own unique vision guides it along nicely -- you can see his most obvious touch in the visions experience by Williams of the Red Knight, one of the most frightening apparitions you'll ever run across.
The film vividly shows the torturing, deep pain of utter loss, as well as our vital need to be loved -- and our need to perform acts of kindness, and to seek forgiveness for the wrongs that we have done. The love story between Williams and Plummer is one of the sweetest -- and most convincing -- ever in a film. It's enough to give us hope that, truly, anything is possible. Jack's road to redemption is a rocky one -- as is his own love story, which is bound up with that of Perry and Lydia. The lengths to which he ultimately will go in order to help his friend are stunning, inspiring, and, most importantly, believable.
THE FISHER KING is a modern masterpiece -- and one that will, I think, continue to move viewers for many, many years. It's story is a timeless one, skillfully brought to the screen by a modern master. If you want to show someone how good film can be, show them THE FISHER KING.
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on May 15, 2002
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!
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on April 18, 2002
Former Monty Python regular Terry Gilliam has directed 13 movies, including the mythical "Baron Munchausen" in 1988, and 2 obvious classics, "Brazil", and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail". The year 2003 will bring us his "Good Omens". But in 1991, he gave us the mystical, magical gem "The Fisher King", a tremendous saga about the triumph of the human spirit. "The Fisher King" stars Jeff Bridges as another wounded, lost victim of the psychosis we call the modern world. He's a former talk radio star who destroys his life and many others' with a mean-spirited, thoughtless on-the-air remark. Fractured with guilt, he meets a demented homeless man(Robin Williams), and becomes enlisted in the unlikely quest for the Holy Grail. Robin Williams performance as Parry, the lost and wounded street person, is the genesis for his future demonic destitute crystalized 11 years later in "Death to Smoochy". Academy Award winning Mercedes Ruehl co-stars. This widescreen DVD(with trailer) is yet another terrific transfer from Columbia Tristar. And Sony gives it the anamorphic treatment. "The Fisher King" is a complete film; funny, compelling, innocent, and irrational. And like an old Howard Hawks epic, it's a street-level expose about the real relationship between two men. Love, Sanity, Redemption, and Ethel Merman. "The Fisher King" is a bountiful fantasy brimming with wonder and escapism....and isn't that what cinema is really all about?
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on March 23, 2002
"The Fisher King" combines an almost independent film sensiblity (the gradual narrowing of focus on the 4 lead characters almost to the exclusion of the Big City around them)with a big-budget film appetite, 4 solid performances by the leads (plus one spectacular supporting actor as a down-and-out showgirl/singer with a mustache), an intelligent story and funny script into a funny, enjoyable, moving film.
Robin Williams tempers some of his manic "Good Morning Vietnam" energy with some of the sensitivity and depth he won an Oscar for in 'Good Will Hunting". His string of commercially successful films-with-a-heart (Fisher King, Awakenings, Patch Adams, Good Will Hunting, Good Morning Vietnam, Dead-Poets Society, What Dreams May Come.. )while not without a few duds - is unmatched by any actor today (Tom Hanks a close 2nd; Bill Murray has the critical acclaim but not the commercial success and John Travolta has moved on to other types of films...).
Anyone who enjoyed 'Patch Adams' or 'Good Will Hunting' should appreciate this film. Highly recommended!
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on March 15, 2002
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.
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on August 29, 2001
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!
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