The Fisher King is one of those movies that really feels so messy but in the end it’s such a wonderful mess. It’s messy in the sense that it is also using this nature to itself in order to fully embrace what it is about. And at that, there’s still more wonder to be found within Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King. Sure, it’s no Brazil but it’s one to win the heart of even a cold soul like myself. It’s the sort of lack of balance that works to such an amazing degree. Considering how it would have come off for me at first glance as something that shouldn’t work, yet the whole time I couldn’t help myself. It was just nothing short of playful, and somehow, it managed to work its way to becoming both joyous and emotionally hard-hitting at the same time, and never does it fall down to the levels of cheap sentimentality – something that I know Gilliam would never stoop down to.
Gilliam’s Brazil was one movie that has a thing for playing as many tricks as it possibly can on the mind and The Fisher King seems like a nice follow-up – this time he’s giving us a nice portrait of mental health. It’s very whimsical with the style of Gilliam’s work coming in as always but what is admirable is just how honest every moment of it all feels. To an extent, I will admit I even did find the means that Gilliam has used to create Parry’s wacky world rather relatable, for it created a greater insight into the perspectives of mentally ill people, something to which I appreciate rather highly in the sense that it never hits a false note and every moment feels so real for it gives a clear look inside the broken souls of the lead characters, and in a rather strange manner, creating something more relatable out of them.
Robin Williams as Parry is one thing that simply keeps the film as charming as it could ever possibly be. In this role he is giving everything his all – you see him just capturing the very essence of a man who needs help. And sure, what’s being given is the wackiness that comes along knowing it’s a Gilliam film, yet look deeper and it’s also something so deeply heartfelt. Terry Gilliam embraces the world of Parry so perfectly well it’s absolutely unbelievable. Just watching Williams in here only makes me miss him even more, it is without a doubt my favourite role from such a wondrous onscreen presence – for it is a role that recognizes both of Williams’s abilities within the comedic and dramatic territory, and works wonders out of what he is capable of.
Jeff Bridges, Mercedes Ruehl, and Amanda Plummer all manage to knock out great work with what they’ve got. It’s nice to see Bridges going out just to seek redemption even if it means he must also be dragged into the wacky world that Parry inhabits, it’s rather nice to see just the search for redemption from being so self-centered down to a man who grows more sympathetic along the way. Seeing Bridges just being so refined yet wacky felt so nice to watch. These performances embrace the world which they inhabit, which is indeed one of the best things to expect from a Terry Gilliam film, but even with how playful it all appears to be under Gilliam’s own eyes, this style helps in getting the audience much closer to the brokenness of their souls, which in turn adds a greater effect to be left behind from the more dramatic territory.
It’s amazing how much Terry Gilliam has managed to form out of what could seemingly have turned out sloppy considering the film’s screenwriter – Richard LaGravenese. I’ve never particularly been a fan of LaGravenese, I always found that his work bears way too much into a sentimental territory, but if I were to describe what had been written into here, it is certainly LaGravenese’s most profound work yet and the results are absolutely excellent. Moments that can easily be written off as sentimental are worked into something all the more magnificent under the guiding of Terry Gilliam. Gilliam’s playful style is such a wonder to witness and here again, it works to the film’s benefit. He works around what may eventually come off as sloppy dialogue and churns out something that is as joyous as it is also sincere.
For how wacky it all is, it at least feels honest enough the way The Fisher King plays everything out to be, the result is greater than expected. It’s one of those lacks of balance that seems to work for what it is. If it weren’t for Brazil this would be my favourite Gilliam, but The Fisher King does feel like it’s more welcoming. It’s definitely no Brazil, but with that said, it is one of Terry Gilliam’s very best films and also one of the most unique portraits of mental illness to have been put to the screen. Sincerity on cinema has never been captured as beautifully as Terry Gilliam puts it all on the screen in The Fisher King, much to the very point that even the moments that appear so lively are able to reach out to its audiences in such a poignant manner. One cannot expect something nearly as challenging as what Brazil may have created, but the greatest wonder left behind in The Fisher King is just the fact that it works for a simple reason: it all feels so down to earth.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via TriStar.
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Screenplay by Richard LaGravenese
Produced by Debra Hill, Lynda Obst
Starring Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges, Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer
Release Year: 1991
Running Time: 137 minutes