Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King is film as art. Had Richard LaGravenese’s thought-provoking screenplay been in the hands of a different director, the film would have resulted in a mechanical reproduction of life. It’s Gilliam’s use of Rembrandt chiaroscuro and Podovkin’s montage, in conjunction with sharpening and emphasizing objects on-screen, that begin to evoke images of great artistic exhibition. Gilliam’s meticulous use of lenses, focal lengths, distorted angles and hallucinatory depictions manipulated through space, take a contemporary ‘90s New York City and turn it medieval. His film becomes art when the spectator begins to see N.Y.C. in ways never cinematographed. Even with the film’s superabundance of close-ups, a spectator doesn’t lose sight of location. Images of iconic landmarks are cinematographed with unique triangular perceptions, allowing the viewer to see the picture in a different light.
The success and failure of a radio show host (Jeff Bridges) coincides with the curse he placed on a traumatized former teacher named Parry (Robin Williams) who’s become a transient. The connection between their lives is profound, with themes exploring the way these two characters attract each other. Jack obligates himself to help Parry for his own redemption. Jack has taken time off as a radio host due to self-induced guilt experienced by an error he made, on-air, resulting in tragedy for Parry. Jack turns into a cantankerous man with suicidal tendencies. Acceptance becomes a volitional act once he seeks to redeem himself by helping Parry regain his mental faculties. Jack becomes Parry’s amenable friend; controlled and persuaded while willingly carrying out the wishes of Parry’s desires. Throughout Jack’s journey in helping Parry, he grows distant to his girlfriend Anne (Mercedes Ruehl), always giving her sly innuendos in typically disparaging tones. Jack indignantly rejects the universe’s claim that he should hold himself accountable for Parry’s state, considering it was his mistake on the radio that led a madman to a shooting massacre, killing Parry’s wife. Parry’s post-traumatic stress lead to effeminate lisps and mannerisms, making him a suitable partner in a match-made in heaven with Lydia (Amanda Plummer), a quirky office-worker who Parry follows around the city.
LaGravenese’s screenplay is filled with ideas (generally good, it’s worth noting) making the narrative appear theoretical. With a unique, and sometimes bizarre angle on New York, The Fisher King explores themes of guilt, accountability and romance. It contrasts the lives of the rich with poor, the sane and insane. Societies acceptable degree of the partially-insane (those capable of succeeding in the workplace) meets the fully-psychotic who roam the streets by day, and streak Central Park by night. The film explores who these people are, and how they came to be, in their degraded societal positions. These themes provide justification for Jack and Parry’s social status while revealing empathies. This causes the spectator to develop a greater understanding for the mentally ill; of how one can become homeless and deranged.
It’s rare for a film to pull-off such a feat, combining artistic filmmaking techniques by translating to the screen what could easily be a mechanical recording of nature. Instead, Gilliam reproduces a fantastic work of art, while maintaining the integrity of a grounded story. Using concrete imagery, The Fisher King delves into worlds of distant past and dimensions unseen, while staying contemporary in its essence of narrative. The film draws empathy for two sides of society; a successful man’s tribulations intermixed with those outcast. This collateralization makes the spectator realize similarities between the lives of those falsely deemed as “sane”. The film alludes to the notion that life can turn any man psychotic, no matter how successful they once were. And should one willingly search, redemption is always around the corner. The Fisher King has a beautiful mind, with wild eyes and a loving heart. It’s truly a film as art.
written by ardalan pourvali