03 January 2021 (released)
03 January 2021
When actor/comedian Robin Williams took his own life in August 2014 the media was quick to jump to salacious conclusions (as is its wont), primed to present presumptions about the whys, scurrilously concluding that it was one or all of ‘drugs, depression, debt’.
The sad reality was that despite these issues bedevilling Williams for years he had finally reached a time in his life when he appeared truly happy and the main cause one that wouldn’t be revealed until months later when the coroner’s report revealed that he had ‘diffuse Lewy Body dementia’.
This destructive degenerative disease lay latent in Williams affecting his capacity to recall scripts lines, effecting subtle shifts in his posture and gait and casting doubts and aspersions upon things that aren’t ‘wrong’ which only make sense afterwards (‘his brain was giving him misinformation’). These episodes further exacerbating his already crippling sense of anxiety and self-esteem leading him to despair ‘I’m not ‘me’ anymore’ and I just want to reboot my brain’.
Having met his wife, Susan Schneider-Williams at an Apple shop (marrying in 2011) the film shows what would become his final years as a time of serenity and stability (swapping hedonism for cycling), surrounded by a neighbourhood and circle of friends who adored him for who he was not what he was.
This level of affection and respect is typified by director Shawn Levy as he recounts the fierce loyalty of the cast and crew on what would be Williams’ final film (‘Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb’) in keeping William’s frailty private. No mean feat nowadays.
Tylor Norwood’s film is less a hagiographic trawl through Williams’ distinguished career and more a heart-breaking memorialisation and celebration of his later life and slow decline. This acts as a necessary corrective to the ‘sad clown suicide’ story and also as an important mouthpiece for raising awareness of this debilitating disease which is metaphorically described as ‘a plane coming in with no landing gear’.
The film begins with Williams articulating and verbalising how he perceives himself and particularly the inner-voices that dictate, drive and determines ‘who’ he is as ‘not an act, more a cesspool of ideas’. This telling comment allows for both the madcap, zany representation that he is renowned for yet also displays a self-awareness that in the context of his demise demonstrates the cruelty of this illness that short-circuited his sense of self and severed his ability to survive.
Williams’ strong discipline amidst addiction was demonstrated in 1982 when following John Belushi’s death from excess Williams dedicated himself to ‘drinking only white wine for a year’ abstaining from all the other vices that surrounded him. This example of extreme self-control when in the eye of a narco-storm a telling counterpoint to his final months of uncoordinated collapse.
His use of comedy as a great form of healing is shown when he repeatedly goes to Afghanistan and Iraq to entertain the US troops, humanly and empathetically engaging with wounded soldiers as he ‘knew where they came from’ and also doing his thing: simply entertaining. Another example was when his great friend, Superman actor Christopher Reeve was paralysed from the neck down following his riding accident in 1995. Williams sneaked in to see him and pretended to be a ‘Russian proctologist’, his (dis)guise embodying his very essence as a performer able to lighten any moment. Williams’ capacious heart is captured in all its storied glory and also its vulnerability.
It is evident that for Schneider-Williams this film has been highly therapeutic for both setting the record straight about her husband’s death and via her tireless consciousness-raising of the disease also to enact Williams’ credo from his AA group that he wanted to ‘help people be less afraid’. This film is a fitting testimony.
‘Robin’s Wish is available on Digital and On Demand on all major platforms from 4th January.