Robin Williams is one of the most well-known comedians of all time. While his stand-up comedy career was distinguished by his ability for quick-fire improvisation, it was his film career that elevated him to levels of respect few celebrities can match. For example, his roles as a serial murderer in Insomnia or as a depressed bank teller in Boulevard feature him deliberately acting against his usual persona, which in retrospect was unavoidable.
The Fisher King is a film that has proven itself to be a standout among his peers in the years following it's release, with Jeff Bridges as Jack Lucas, a former radio DJ who contemplates suicide while working with his girlfriend Anne (Mercedes Ruehl) on a video rental business. The film's fantastical tone fits neatly into Gilliam's decades-long fascination with the strange and bizarre.
Parry is the true star of Gilliams' Fisher Kings narrative, which transcends ego to loving companion. He is also a coping mechanism for one Henry Sagan, a teacher at Hunter College who was shot to death in front of his eyes. The vivid colors in his eyes only underscore the tragic moments in his character.
Williams is without a doubt the true personality behind Parry, despite his first impressions. Rather, a lesser performance would have left him unable to exaggerate the impact of the film. As Jack helps to reintegrate Parry into regular society, it becomes difficult to tell where Parry stops and where Henry Sagan starts.
Jack is seen attempting to save Parry from the fictitious world he has trapped himself in, partly due to his selfish desire to be heard once again, but also due to his guilt for causing Parry's breakdown, although the whole plotline invokes a classical Hollywood romance in which characters change from strangers to soulmates in a matter of seconds.
The Fisher King's greatest performance is interrupted by a two-hundred-person ballroom dance as the fictional world of Parry bleeds over into reality. It's a rare moment of pure unadulterated pleasure in a film that spends most of its time investigating the human condition.
Williams excels even in the quietest scenes, only to show Jack and Annes reactions that range from bewildered to enthralled as they realize how great they are (they were made for each other) to romantic filmmaking at its finest.
Parry drifts into his catatonic state in the aftermath of this scene, which feels too sour for a horror film, but it also serves as a sudden (if unwelcome) reminder that The Fisher King was never a light-hearted comedy that spent so much time rescuing his deceased wife.
The Fisher King is a strange thing to think about when it first premiered in 1991, but that was thirty-one years ago, and Williams' passing in 2014 means that no one will ever see it through the same lens as someone thirty-one years ago, giving the impression that things can (and will) get better. He is also a moving example to those who can relate to his difficulties.