Fisher King, The: Fable Starring Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges

the_fisher_king_posterGilliam was tired of big budget special effects films, especially after the huge failure of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, which cost over $45 million, and so he was relieved to make a smaller, more intimate film with a budget of $24 million.

However, As original and fanciful as Gilliam (“Brazil”) is as a filmmaker, he too falls victim to some clichs and sentimentality in “The Fisher King,” a mythical tale of redemption, written by Richard LaGravenese.

Early on, a TV executive pitches a weekly comedy series about the homeless that will show them as “wacky and wise.” The movie isn’t that series, but it’s burdened by a cluttered plot that’s driven by a mawkish idea.

Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges), a sleek, mean-spirited radio star, an emblem of the 1980s cold-hearted excesses. Jack’s career ends, when a deranged caller on his talk show, taking his cue from the host’s insults, commits a mass murder in a yuppie bar. Three years later, the demoralized and barren Jack is at the end of his rope, when he meets Parry (Robin Williams), an eccentric derelict that takes his cues from visions of “cute little fat people.”

A casualty of the bar tragedy, Parry isn’t a clinical case–like Romulus, he’s an educated man who once taught medieval history. Calling himself “the janitor of God,” he holds that the Holy Grail is “God’s symbol of divine grace,” with him as a knight on a special quest. A gentle soul, driven mad by grief, he’s chattering aimlessly and cavorting naked in Central Park.

At one point, disheveled, drunk and mistaken for a homeless man, Jack is about to be set on fire by vigilantes, when Parry, using a garbage-can lid as a shield and wearing a blanket as a cape, saves him from the attackers. In due course, the two redeem each other from their empty lives, each playing a contemporary version of the mythic hero who finds the Holy Grail.

Mercedes Ruehl plays Jack’s tough, quirky girlfriend, who owns a video store, and Amanda Plummer is also in the cast, playing yet another eccentric role.

Detailed Plot:

Jack Lucas, a cynical and arrogant shock jock, becomes despondent after his insensitive on-air comment inadvertently prompt an unstable caller to commit mass murder at a Manhattan bar.

Three years later, the drunken and depressed Jack is working with girlfriend Anne in a video store. One night, he attempts suicide, but he is mistaken for a homeless is attacked and nearly set on fire by thugs. He is rescued by Parry, a deluded homeless who is on a mission to find the Holy Grail.

Though initially reluctant, Jack becomes responsible for Parry when he learns that the man’s condition is a result of witnessing his wife’s horrific murder by Jack’s psychotic caller. Parry is haunted by a hallucinatory Red Knight, who terrifies him whenever he shows any confidence.

Parry had slipped into a catatonic state after his wife’s death, and later became obsessed with the legend of the Fisher King, a figure charged by God with guarding the Holy Grail. A simple-minded Fool asks the King why he suffers, and when the King says he is thirsty, the Fool gives him a cup of water to drink. The king realizes the cup is the Grail and is baffled that the boy found it. “How did you find what my brightest and bravest could not?” The Fool laughed and said “I don’t know. I only knew that you were thirsty.”

Jack seeks to redeem himself by helping Parry find love again. He sets Parry up with Lydia, a shy woman who works as an accountant for a Manhattan publisher. Parry is smitten by Lydia but is again haunted by the Red Knight. Trying to escape his hallucinatory tormentor, he is attacked by the same thugs who had attacked Jack; the beating causes Parry to become catatonic again.

Wearing Parry’s clothing, Jack infiltrates the Upper East Side castle of a famed architect and retrieves the “Grail,” a trophy Parry believed to be the real Grail. When he brings it to Parry, the latter regains consciousness. Jack also thwarts the accidental suicide of the famous architect by tripping the alarm when leaving his castle.

When Lydia visits Parry in the hospital, she hears him and Jack engaged in a rousing rendition of “How About You?.” Parry and Lydia embrace.

In the last scene, Jack, recovered and redeemed, goes to the Video store and declares love for Anne. Baffled, she slaps him before grabbing him forcefully and planting a kiss.

This was the first film Gilliam directed in which he was not involved in writing the screenplay, and also his first film not to feature members of Monty Python.  It is Gilliam’s second film involving the Holy Grail, the first being Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Gilliam came up with the scene where Robin Williams and Amanda Plummer meet during a huge waltz in the middle of Grand Central, because the scene LaGravenese had written (which set in a crowded subway with people listen to a homeless black woman sing) wasn’t working.

Oscar Nominations: 5

Screenplay (Original): Richard LaGravenese

Actor: Robin Williams

Supporting Actress: Mercedes Ruehl

Art Direction-Set Decoration: Mel Bourne; Cindy Carr

Score (Original): George Fenton


Oscar Awards: 1

Supporting Actress

Oscar Context

In 1991, the big winner at the Oscars was Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs,” which won Picture, Director, Screenplay (Adapted), Actor, and Actress.

Callie Khouri’s script for “Thelma and Louise” won the Original Screenplay Oscar; Art Direction went to “Bugsy”; and Score to Alan Menken for Disney’s animated “Beauty and the Beast.”



Jeff Bridges as Jack Lucas

Robin Williams as Parry

Mercedes Ruehl as Anne

Amanda Plummer as Lydia

Michael Jeter as Homeless Cabaret Singer

David Hyde Pierce as Lou Rosen

Lara Harris as Sondra

Harry Shearer as Ben Starr

Kathy Najimy as Crazed Video Customer

John de Lancie as TV Executive

Tom Waits as Disabled Veteran (Uncredited)