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In DEAD POETS SOCIETY (1989), Robin Williams exhorts students to follow Whitman and sound their “barbaric yawps over the roofs of the world.” In THE FISHER KING he just yawps — and the world yawps with him. The Brattle, as part of its ongoing tribute to Williams, is giving you three opportunities today to join your own yawp to the chorus, and to seek your own grail within whatever dark wood you call home. In the meantime, if you want to, you can read more about the film after the trailer.

The best film about a “shock jock” — that once fairly ubiquitous specimen of DJ asshole, which, Howard Stern excepted (I guess), more or less vanished from the culture as FM radio’s influence withered with its market share — is probably Eric Bogosian’s TALK RADIO (1988), a scabrous blabathon about a hate-baiting late-night misanthrope who more or less talks his assassin into killing him. But it has some pretty fierce competition in Terry Gilliam‘s frantic urban fairy-tale THE FISHER KING, in which Jeff Bridges portrays a high-flying dickhead named Jack Lucas who is brought low by self-loathing and bad press after an anti-yuppie rant he delivers to a sad, lonely caller — “they must be stopped before it’s too late!” — provokes said caller to open fire on a restaurant full of presumably beautiful people.

After briskly establishing the cause of Jack’s fallen state, the film springs forward three years and let’s us survey the damage: one-time penthouse occupant Jack now works at a hole-in-the-wall vhs rental shop called The Video Spot, with whose salt-of-the-earth, eager-to-marry proprietress, Anne (Mercedes Ruehl), he shares a bed in the apartment upstairs, all the while pining for redemption — or for anything, really, that will let him return to his old life. All he wants, he confides to Anne, is a chance to “pay the fine and go home.”

He thinks he’s found his chance when he runs into a homeless lunatic animated (and then some) by the conviction that he’s a knight errant on a quest for the Holy Grail. He’s also on a quest for the love of a shy klutz of an office girl named Lydia (Amanda Plummer), whom he’s too timid to do anything but follow and fantasize about as she makes her hapless rounds around town. He calls himself Perry (Percival, see) and he wants Jack’s help. Jack sees a possible opening to his own salvation here, however dubious, so he agrees.

Perry, by the way (and as if you didn’t know), is played by Robin Williams.

Watching THE FISHER KING is different now than it would have been a few months ago, of course. Perhaps even watching something like MRS. DOUBTFIRE (1993) would be different now, but I don’t expect I’ll ever test it. There are a few films Robin Williams starred in from the late ’80s through the early ’90s in which the preternatural vividness of his humanity was harnessed to questing, thematically rich storytelling; films that, imperfect as they were, continue to resonate deeply with audiences, and would have gone on doing so without or without Williams’ suicide. AWAKENINGS (1990) is one of them, DEAD POETS SOCIETY — about which more tomorrow — is another.

But mightiest among them in strangeness and sorrow, goofiness and gravitas, is THE FISHER KING, without question. A kind of gift (a kind of grail, ok?) given to Williams by Terry Gilliam, and given to Gilliam by Robin Williams, and given to the rest of us by gratuitous grace, THE FISHER KING is both creakily dated and perfectly timeless, a parable of being lost and being found that transposes medieval myth onto late 20th century Manhattan, wrestling (and what a wrestler was Robin Williams) with such then (and still, sigh) pressing issues as homelessness, gun violence and mental illness while telling a very particular tale about two lost men whose fates are conjoined by tragedy — and also by a little romantic comedy.

4:15pm, 7pm, 9:45pm
137 minutes
$10 General Admission // $8 Students w/ID // $7 Seniors & Children

Brattle Theatre
40 Brattle St.
Cambridge, MA

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