Terry Gilliam (director)
Criterion Collection (studio)
19 June 2017 (released)
Blending poignant melodrama with surreal fantasy, Terry Gilliam’s acclaimed THE FISHER KING sees Robin Williams in search for the Holy Grail and Jeff Bridges searching for the meaning of life… and love.
When Ray Charles’ ‘Hit the Road, Jack’ blares over the film’s opening credits we instantly know there’s got to be some sort of meaning in this. Sure enough, when sarcastic and self-indulgent radio shock-jock Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) causes one of his listeners to commit mass murder/suicide in a Manhattan restaurant after a provocative on-air comment, Jack does the right thing and hits the road – well, sort off. Three years on, and the former radio DJ has been reduced to a shadow of his former self – working in the video store which belongs to his long-suffering girlfriend Anne (Mercedes Ruehl) when not drinking himself into a state of self-pity and depression. During one of his nightly booze-fuelled strolls he is mistaken for a tramp and attacked by thugs who don’t like the look of someone like him in their ‘respectable’ neighbourhood. Just as the thugs proceed to set Jack on fire along comes a real tramp by the name of Parry (Robin Williams) and saves Jack from certain death in a scene that proves the first of many of the movie’s highlights. Parry is deluded and rambles on about a terrifying red knight out to destroy him – a condition which is the result of Parry witnessing the brutal murder of his wife some years ago. Other than that, Parry is a likeable enough chap on the search of the Holy Grail which he believes to be somewhere in New York’s Upper West Side. Of course, there is more to his story, for once upon a time Parry was a university teacher going by his real name of Henry Sagan – only after the violent death of his wife did he slip into a catatonic state and changed into his alter ego of Parry while at the same time becoming obsessed with the legend of the Fisher King, the last person charged with guarding the Holy Grail.
Despite their different backgrounds and different agendas the two men are lost souls and it is that very fact which bonds them. Jack feels he owes Parry his life and tries to make good for past screw-ups by helping Parry to find the Holy Grail but also love. The woman in question is Lydia (Amanda Plummer), a shy and somewhat clumsy accountant working for a NY publishing house. First efforts lead to frankly disastrous results but an arranged dinner in a Chinese restaurant looks much more promising. However, when Parry walks Lydia home his old tormentor, the Red Knight, appears on horse prompting Parry to run away in terror. Minutes later, Parry finds himself attacked by the same thugs who once attacked Jack – causing Parry to drift into a catatonic state once again. Around the same time, Jack splits from Anne in order to re-built his shattered career but realises he is no longer the same person for these days, he actually has a social conscience. After hearing of Parry’s attack he sets out to find the Holy Grail for his hospitalised friend… and to unite him with Lydia. Will there be a happy end for Parry and Lydia and for Jack and Anne?
This is a wonderful film full of poignancy and meaning – performed by a terrific ensemble cast ideal for their parts. As usual with Gilliam’s films, some stunning and surreal visuals emphasize the message further. This newly-restored Special Edition offers some interesting Special Features as a bonus.