The Fisher King (1991)

The Fisher King is a Terry Gilliam movie about a radio shock jock played by Jeff Bridges and his attempt to help a homeless man played by Robin Williams. Bridges finds out that a comment he said on the radio spurred the actions that resulted in Williams’ position in life, and this movie is about the redemption he hopes to find by helping Williams out.

I’ve seen some of Gilliam’s other work, and it seems like he has an interest in psychotic or deviant characters. Whether it’s skittish Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys or the drug-induced Paranoia, or Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing, Gilliam is able to match the tone of his movies to its characters’ psychological abnormalities.

Here, Robin Williams fits comfortably into the role of a homeless man who appears to be schizotypal. He has delusions of reference, magical thinking, and is just generally eccentric in his behavior and appearance. The film matches his differences in thinking with canted angles and fast cuts, and since even the relatively normal (to Williams) Jeff Bridges has a few psychological problems of his own, it makes sense for the camera and the characters to share a warped perspective. The occasional POV shots that are used in the film only cement the relationship.

Williams and Bridges are both solid in their performances and characters, and their corresponding romantic interests also do a great job. I thought Mercedes Ruehl in particular was enjoyable as a strong, rational character amidst people who are so unstable, and it was a relief to have her character still treat the others as human beings. Gilliam’s got a bit of social commentary going on in his film, and though it may not be decisive, he at least brings up some interesting notions.

The story is captivating and has a healthy mix of humor, drama, and darkness (particularly Williams’ hallucinations of the Red Knight). Gilliam makes his material interesting and steers the film with his consistent, if somewhat peculiar, vision. There is an excellent scene that is strictly musical as Williams tries to follow a woman through a busy station, and an impromptu dance starts. It’s all very ethereal, just one of the feelings that this movie successfully evokes.

Final rating: 8/10

–James A. Janisse

 

 

 

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