Empty Days

Monday, February 09, 2004



The Fisher King

I like Jeff Bridges and I like Robin Williams. And I like the film they both star in -"The Fisher King", by Terry Gilliam.

Some say it's a corny little flick. Well, maybe. Except that it's a fairy-tale, even though it mentions Nietzsche (yup, it does:). And it's not a fairy-tale because it has a happy-ending, or because Robin Williams looks too much like Peter Pan at times, or because there are bogey-knights roaming the streets of NY, or because the homeless look too colorful to be true, or...

In short, if you think it's corny, it's because you've missed the fairy-tale aspect of the story.

And what is a fairy-tale, you may ask? Well, a fairy-tale of any denomination (african or russian or inuit or arab or german or chinese etc) is a philosophical treatise on the foundations of life - presented in a seemingly naive imagery. If you are into philosophical authorities, you might be interested to know that Wittgenstein z.B. often read and re-read Grimms' tales. On the other hand, he also maintained that detective mags made more sense than the contents of the Mind magazine (an academic journal). So it's up to you.

***

So let's say I like this movie for its fairy-tale alias philosophical gist. And I seriously dig Jeff Bridges' character - or the way he plays it. Incidentally, he also acted in that other outlandish second-rate movie - "Fearless". The only reason this movie makes *any* sense at all is because J.Bridges acts in it - it'd be hopeless trash without his overwhelming presence.

Ok.

So what happens to Jeff Bridges in the film? Well, read the synopsis. But here's what it's really about:
"The Fisher King is dying, his kingdom is dying around him," Gilliam says as he describes the various myths surrounding the Fisher King and the Grail. "He's a man who's probably seen too much of life - he's experienced betrayal and tragedy. His life is slowly crumbling, and his kingdom goes barren. He's also lost the Grail. It's the one thing that can save him, but he's lost the ability to see it and experience it. A fool comes along and finds the Grail right next to his bed and restores the king."
What is brilliant about Bridges' performance is that he manages to *show* how much a perfectly normal rational man has to struggle against his own normality to reach into the world of fairy-tales, where he finally discovers the bare fabric of life - that is, his own heart.

If you take the film at face-value you will think that Robin Williams plays the fool of the tale. But in fact, that fool is Bridges. He is both the Fisher King *and* the Fool.

Now you see why they talk of Nietzsche in this film.

***

Today I had a moment of clarity.

A moment of clarity is when an idea becomes crystal-clear and through this crystal all sorts of memories and incidents and bits and pieces come together and form an obvious picture. I understood that will-power, or freedom of the will, requires a hardening of the heart - a throwing away of things like kindness, compassion, pity, self-pity, goodness...

This insight gave me great energy and a sense of liberation. Among other things I decided I would put an end to my correspondence with that suicidal guy in UK - the hell with it.

Then, while flipping through the channels that evening, I happened on the last portion of The Fisher King. And it cleared away my clarity. Yes, I was right - will-power does require a hardening of the heart, and it does lead to freedom. But where does this freedom lead in turn?

So I won't be quitting on that suicidal guy after all. Thanks to the Fisher King and the Fool.

***

There is a strange thing though - I've seen this film a few times now and for some reason I can't bring myself to notice the romantic plot-line at all. Yet it's often described as a romantic comedy :-0

***

Another thing: I can't watch this movie very often. As a work of art it is not that great. But Bridges' character is just too good to miss.





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