Fisher King Movie Essay Topics


The Fisher King (1991)

  • Information at Internet Movie Database
  • Looking Closer, review by Jeffrey Overstreet, "searching for truth, beauty and meaning in the movies."
  • Review, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality & Health - Spiritual Practices for Human Being.
  • Themes
    • Call
      • This excellent movie is an exploration of the way in which the central character , a shock-jock radio host, seeks for forgiveness , having unwittingly incited a man to commit a massacre in a restaurant. He meets someone who has suffered a breakdown as a result of witnessing the massacre and tries in all sorts of ways to free himself of his own sense of guilt. The man he has met (played by Robin Williams) is convinced that the DJ has been sent to bring him a silver cup ( actually a sporting trophy ) which he thinks is the Holy Grail. The Robn Williams character repeatedly calls him to this task, but he dismisses it as ridiculous. Finally,though , when Robin Williams falls into a catatonic state, he realises that simply because he needs the 'grail' to get better he will retrieve it. It strikes me as relevant to the theme of 'call' because of the way in which it is circumstance which compels him, eventually, to do something only he can do. The act he is called to is ridiculous, but it is the doing of it which is really important. In fullfilling his 'call' , by doing something out of simple love, he not only heals someone else, but finds the freedom he has been seeking for himself. 
    • Confrontation with Evil
      • As Jack enters the "castle," he meets the spectre of Edwin who climbs up the stairs and shoots at Jack. 
    • Conversion
      • Jack's change in character from a self-absorbed person to one who would go on a "meaningless" quest in order to save another.
    • Death/Grief
      • Parry's grief over his wife's death.
    • Fear
      • Parry's fear of the Red Dragon - scene in front of Lydia's apartment or in front of the mansion where he is being chased by the specter of his wife's death.
    • Friendship
      • The friendship that develops between Jack and Parry. (final scene)
    • Guilt/Regret
      • Jack wants to "just pay the fine and go home" but cannot lose the guilt that way. 
    • Healing/Healers
      • Through their mutual respect, friendship and quest, Jack and Parry are healed.
    • Holy Grail
      • The man [Jack] has met (played by Robin Williams) is convinced that the DJ has been sent to bring him a silver cup ( actually a sporting trophy ) which he thinks is the Holy Grail. The Robn Williams character repeatedly calls him to this task, but he dismisses it as ridiculous . Finally,though , when Robin Williams falls into a catatonic state, he realises that , simply because he needs the 'grail' to get better he will retrieve it. (submitted by Anne Gordon)
    • Interconnectedness
      • Jack's off-hand remarks inspire Edwin to commit the massacre at the restaurant. Jack later is redeemed through a relationship with Parry - the spouse of one of the massacre victims.
    • Overcoming Obstacles
      • Jack's search for the Holy Grail in the mansion.
    • Reconciliation/forgiveness
      • Reconciliation between Jack and Parry.
    • Redemption
      • Jack wants to "pay the fine and go home" after discovering that Parry's wife was killed after Jack made remarks about Yuppies on his radio show. He discovers that redemption is often more difficult
    • Repentance
      • Through his relationship with Parry and Parry's quest, Jack repents from his self-centered lifestyle. (Which was just as self-centered as a "poor" person as it was as a "rich" person.)
    • Saving/Savior
      • Jack and Parry save each other's lives in literal and figurative ways.
    • Servanthood
      • The DJ discovers that it is only when he truly serves the Robin Williams character , by doing what he wants rather than what will make the DJ feel better , that he finds his the peace and forgiveness he needs. (submitted by Anne Gordon)
    • Spiritual Struggle
      • Parry and Jack are each paralyzed from their struggle with the "demons" inside of them - Parry with the Red Dragon symbolizing his wife's death, Jack with the guilt from having been part of the circumstances surrounding that death.
      • "I just want to pay the fine and go home". The character istired of trying to work out his salvation. (Craig & Jo Jorgensen)


Index of Movie Titles

Index of Movie Themes

“The Fisher King” is a disorganized, rambling and eccentric movie that contains some moments of truth, some moments of humor, and many moments of digression. The filmmakers are nothing if not generous; we get urban grit, show-biz angst, two love affairs, the holy grail, the homeless, an action sequence, a dance sequence, and an apocalyptic figure on a horse who rides through Central Park with flames shooting from his head. Even with such excess, at 137 minutes the movie shows signs of having been pruned of some of its quiet spots - or did they intend to have all those scenes, back to back, in which people shout at each other? The film stars Jeff Bridges as Jack, a radio talk show host whose unbalanced listener goes on a shooting spree, apparently following Jack's advice. Jack is devastated and quits his job and drops out into a long, alcoholic reverie, only to be redeemed by Parry (Robin Williams), a homeless man who is convinced the holy grail is in the possession of a Manhattan billionaire, and that together they can find it.


The screenplay, by Richard LaGravenese, seems to have been constructed like an airliner, with fail-safe redundancy. There are not only two heroes in need of redemption, but two heroines in need of love: Jack's long-suffering partner Anne (Mercedes Ruehl), and Parry's dream-woman Lydia (Amanda Plummer). And there are not only real-life problems for them to conquer, but also the supernatural possibilities of the grail, the ghost horseman, and Parry's haunting visions. Plus a section in which one of the characters disappears into a coma, and another in which the title is explained in a monologue as long as it is unedifying.

“The Fisher King” is so charming it's hard to say when we notice it has no clothes. Individual sequences are bittersweet and moving, some of William's inventions are funny, there is no denying the originality and force of the Ruehl performance - and yet there comes a time when we cannot sustain one more manic outburst, one more flight of fancy, one more arbitrary twist of plot, one more revelation that the movie tricked us into caring about subjects it eventually throws away.

There is a way in which a movie like this, which allows fantasy to be real, has to play fair with the audience. Take the matter of the holy grail. We wonder at first if it really does still exist, there in that billionaire's mansion (the Fifth Avenue Armory). Later we wonder if it matters. Later we wonder if it was a real cup, or only an idea, that the characters were seeking. Later we wonder if it made any difference if they found it.

I mentioned that some of Robin Williams' moments are funny.

They are. But he is also present at some of the movie's low points, in which a rush of verbal cleverness is allowed for its own sake, and the movie suffers. More than any other good actor now at work, Williams needs strong guidelines to reach his best performances.

Perhaps he should start avoiding roles that are “made for Robin Williams,” as this one is. He's best playing against type - against his own improvisational personality. When he does, as in the better scenes of “Dead Poets Society” or all of “Awakenings,” he is a master actor. When he is indulged, as he is here, he overflows.


Jeff Bridges is as dependable an actor as there is. His problem in this plot is that it takes him on too wild a journey. His own story in the movie - sardonic radio talker sinks into depression after blaming himself for deaths - suggests that he will be redeemed, and a homeless person is a reasonable instrument for his recovery.

But then he doesn't merely recover, he goes along for a manic flight through whimsy and invention, through slapstick and romance, through suspense and deathbed comebacks and Chinese dinners, until he finds himself in the position of the little old lady who had really rather not have been helped to cross the street.

Ruehl, with a deep voice and decolletage, is the most reasonable presence in the movie, a woman who loves even when it is not convenient, but can be pushed only so far. Plummer, as a hapless and incompetent waif who attracts the love and sympathy of the Williams character, is given an idea to play, not a person - and not a very good idea. The movie's double-date scene, recycled from many other movies and embarrassing here, suggests that Plummer's character was added simply because director Terry Gilliam and LaGravenese didn't want to leave out anything.

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