One of those movies that make everyone remain seated
“When everyone remains seated during the text credits, you know it was a good movie”, the projectionist remarked after the screening of The Fisher King at our local film society.
Every Thursday night we show two movies after each other in our theatre, which is one hundred years old and has been restored to the original look. The old interior gives the room a lovely, timeless atmosphere, suitable for an association of cinephiles, but to be honest the seats are rather uncomfortable, as I suppose seats usually were historically. They’re not anything like the soft, cushioned armchairs we’re usually spoilt with. This means that you really don’t want to sit down any longer than you need to. It takes a very special movie for you to linger in the seat, contemplating what you just have seen, enjoying the “long tail” of the film, to use the vocabulary of wine testing.
The Fisher King was one of those films. If we hadn’t had the next movie starting within minutes and if the seats had been a tiny more comfortable, we could have stayed long after it finished. The air was dense with emotions and thoughts following what we just had seen: a drama, a comedy, a fantasy, a romance, a tragedy all at once in the crazy mix of genres that constitutes The Fisher King.
I hadn’t watched The Fisher King since it came out in the early 90s and I remembered very little of it. I remembered a frightening red knight. I remembered a homeless Robin Williams poking in a garbage bin in a dark city. And I remembered that I loved it deeply, so much that I had it among my favourite movies. Considering this you’d imagine I’d re-watch it once in a while over the years, but for some reason I hadn’t. I think it’s a movie that isn’t high in the public consciousness; it’s hidden in the shadows.
The reason why we showed it this particular night was of course the passing away of Robin Williams. It was our tribute to him, and we couldn’t really have picked a better one. In this movie he really gets to show his whole range.
I’m actually not going to say so much about the plot. If you haven’t seen The Fisher King, I recommend you not to read up on it before you see it (which you obviously should). It’s a well told story with some twists and turns and I think not knowing anything about what directions it goes into may add a little bit more to the enjoyment. However I want to give you a warning: if you’re very sensitive about violence, there is particularly one scene which is horrifying and shocking. It’s normal for a horror movie or even an action movie these days, but you’re probably not prepared for it in a film that stars a funny Robin Williams. The contrast is brutal, but it’s also a part of what makes this film so special that you remain in your seat even if your butt aches. It doesn’t shy away.
From now on I won’t let it pass over 20 years between my viewings of The Fisher King. There are so many reasons to see it: to enjoy the performance of Robin Williams (and for that sake of Jeff Bridges, who is fantastic as the main character), to break the wall between reality and imagination and what can come out of it and to enjoy NYC from its best perspective, naked on a lawn in Central Park under a starry sky.
The Fisher King (Terry Gilliam, US 1991) My rating: 5/5