Director: Terry Gilliam
Screenplay: Richard LaGravenese
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer
Running Time: 137 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
The Fisher King is a film I thought I’d seen before, but wasn’t sure. After watching it again for this review I found myself remembering several moments, but I’m still not sure I’d seen it from start to finish. Regardless, I’m glad I definitely got through it all last week as I thought it was great.
The Fisher King centres around Jack (Jeff Bridges), a self-centred and cruel ‘shock-jock’ DJ whose career is on a high as he’s set to take the lead role in a TV sitcom. However, when he gives some insensitive advice to a listener, causing the man to gun down several people in a restaurant, his world comes crashing down and he retreats into a depression. One night, when he’s drunk and feeling particularly low, he decides to commit suicide, but before he attempts to do so, a couple of young thugs attack him. He’s saved by a group of homeless people led by Parry (Robin Williams), a particularly unhinged man who thinks he’s a knight on a quest to recover the Holy Grail, which he believes is kept in a ‘castle’ in New York. Jack tries to get away from Parry as quickly as he can at first, but learns that Parry’s wife was shot and killed in front of his eyes, during the massacre caused by Jack’s poor on-air advice. This shocking incident is what caused Parry’s current mental state, so Jack feels responsible and wants to help the man somehow. Initially he tries to solve the problem with money, but Parry doesn’t care about that and it doesn’t make Jack feel any better about the situation either, so he sets about trying to make a better life for Parry in other ways, which in turn he hopes will improve his own mental stability. The primary goal is to set Parry up with the woman he’s fallen in love with from afar, the mousey, socially awkward and clumsy Lydia (Amanda Plummer).
Terry Gilliam is a director who has famously had problems getting films made (or at least released) the way he wants them, or in some cases even made at all. He’d had particularly bad luck with the two films he made prior to The Fisher King, Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. These were both quite ambitious projects, involving a lot of special effects and elaborate production design, which might explain why The Fisher King was more grounded in reality on a relatively more intimate scale. It seems to have been a relatively smooth production and post-production process for Gilliam too. That’s not to say the film plays against the director’s usual style though. Gilliam visualises Parry’s Arthurian fantasies, most notably the Red Knight, his nemesis. This frightening creation, always on horseback, covered in red flowing material and breathing fire, represents Parry’s inner demons and is used highly effectively, particularly in a key scene towards the end which also features some shocking flashbacks of the restaurant massacre where Parry’s wife was killed.