Movie of the week is a feature where each week I will discuss a film outside of the general new releases and limited VOD films of the year that is now. It will give me a chance to keep diving into older and more niche aspects of cinema and also allow me more freedom in which films I discuss on the site. Expect a lot more content here on the site as of today. This is a new Andrew writing and I hope you guys will enjoy it.
If there’s one story all Terry Gilliam fans are very familiar with it’s the tale of his continued struggle with the studio production of his films. More specifically the tale of the studio production of his most infamous work, Brazil. The film apparently — as I admit to having never actually seen this shorter cut — upon initial theatrical release was reportedly cut by the studio executives to have “happier ending” which mean’t that the final 40 or so mins were missing. This ended up being in the papers as Gilliam took out an ad to publish a letter to the studio executive asking a very important question…
With all that in mind I find The Fisher King a very interesting film. The film was released in 1991, six years after the release of Brazil, and not just for the fact that early in the film we see in the background a poster for Brazil and a character off offhandedly mentions the jaded subtitle — Love Conquers All — that was attached to the shorter version of Brazil, but this is actually a film about just that; love conquering. Whether it be depression, fear, morals, social norms, mental illness or just general assholish-ness; it conquers it and makes everything okay.
It’s particularly strange because the film feels oddly positioned to be a commentary on Gilliam’s previously botched work. The butchered piece of film that had Gilliam’s name attached may have spurned the filmmaker, but if the theory I posit is correct was this the best way to “show it to the big wigs”? Was this about telling them how it would really have been done if they had just contracted him to do just that. Like with the TV scripts that Jack (Jeff Bridges) is being sent from the beginning to the end of the film while he remains in the populous’ ears we see them as Jack does. In the early part of the film and the end when he’s seeing them as this thing that will propel him into another class of popular and mainstream we see it as work that can be good; during the depression and trouble we see it as Jack says, an unfunny sitcom that show us “how America doesn’t know the first thing about funny, which makes it easier not being a famous funny TV celebrity because that would just mean I’m not really talented”. At one point I questioned whether I was watching a Terry Gilliam film or some visual representation of an old Bill Hicks routine.
It wouldn’t be a true Terry Gilliam film without visual oddities. From the “Red Rider” — who exists as a visual reminder of the pain of Parry’s past that appears to haunt him — to the Dragon and the Hawk hovering over our group at a dinner table later on in the film Gilliam cranks up the film’s look as much as he can. However, I think that there’s no moment more glamourous than when Parry sees Lydia, a woman he’s fallen in love with but is yet to meet, and suddenly we see the world through his eyes for a moment and watch the entire room begin to dance — see the scene below. It’s one of those moments in film that stand out among the normal.
So as the film sets up these pair of troubled characters, Jack and Parry (Robin Williams), we have to be prepared for their journey of self acknowledgement. Which finally brings in the title’s references; The Fisher King which appears in the film as a manuscript that Parry wrote before he became crazy and homeless. The tale is one of friendship that transcends any true desire that we as ‘civil’ people tend to have. And like the story we watch as Jack has trouble with making it about being friends with Parry as opposed to his own personal desire to feel better about himself. He spends the most of the movie no different than the guy who watches an ad on television seeing all the hungry children in Africa and swiping his credit card to ‘help’. While I don’t want to spend too much time criticizing the credit card swipers of the world — as I don’t think I’m much better most of the time –it’s painfully obvious that the motivation to swipe comes more from a wish to feel better about oneself rather than truly helping. This is the true moral of the story of The Fisher King and the film. We can truly only hep others when we fully empathize and care rather than just wanting a bottom line of defining ‘help’.
So does that man that this film really is the answer to that question; does love conquer all? I don’t know. But when a film as weird as this shows up, you have to imagine something god damn conquers from time to time.
What do you think of The Fisher King? Feel free to recommend what films I should be checking out next in the Movie Of the Week Feature.