Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Making the Myth True: The Fisher King on Criterion

Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges in The Fisher King.

Around the turn of the millennium, the director Terry Gilliam struggled to bring an updated Don Quixote to the screen; the documentary Lost in La Mancha (2002) chronicles the breakdown of the project after bad weather and the illness of his Quixote, the French actor Jean Rochefort, threw it into financing hell. When he finally released a version of it called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote in 2018, he’d lost the momentum. Really, though, he’d already made his Don Quixote, back in 1991. In his best movie, The Fisher King, written by Richard LaGravenese, two men strangely bonded by a tragedy heal each other through a crackpot mission to locate the Holy Grail, devised by one of them, a schizophrenic (Robin Williams) who used to be a Hunter College English professor named Henry Sagan, and carried through by the other, a one-time radio talk host named Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) whose life has become meaningless. The tragedy is a mass shooting at a popular bar called Babbitt’s perpetrated by a lunatic who has received encouragement for his paranoia by Jack, whose favorite targets is the yuppies who frequent Babbitt’s. Jack’s spleen isn’t real; his diatribes are cynical inventions to entertain his listeners and fuel his career. Until the killer strikes, it never occurs to him that there might be consequences to his habit of revving them up. Afterwards, shattered by what he’s brought into being, Jack goes into retreat, drinking and hiding from the world while his girlfriend Anne (Mercedes Ruehl) shelters him and lets him help her manage the video shop below her apartment.