Robin Williams – Cinema’s Gallant Knight
As you probably know, Robin Williams has passed away. He was found dead on August 11, 2014 after committing suicide due to a long struggle with depression. If you have ever seen one of his movies, this tragic fate is the last thing you would ever expect this man to succumb to. He has always carried this joyous aura around him, playing characters with not the seriousness of an adult, but with the playful innocence of a child. I remember watching him as Peter Pan in “Hook” when I was a little kid; flying through the air, cracking jokes, and vanquishing Captain Hook at the end, with me cheering him on. That’s how I’ve always pictured Robin Williams; he was Peter Pan: a man who refused to grow up.
I first met John Keating when I was about 12 years old, maybe even younger. My father introduced me to him one day when we were at the local Blockbuster and he saw the film “Dead Poets Society” sitting there on the shelf. If you are not aware of whom this is, John Keating is the unconventional English teacher portrayed by Robin Williams in that 1989 masterpiece. While the role wasn’t as manic and zany as the majority of Williams’ roles, it was, in many ways, one of his most honest. A lot like Peter Pan, John Keating was a man who refused the conventional. He ripped pages out of textbooks and ordered his students to stand up on their desks during his lectures within a school where the usual teachings were dull and boring. His most powerful lesson was one in which he taught his students about the concept of carpe diem, which is often translated to “seize the day”. It’s a message that I will take to my grave.
About ten years later, Williams played the supporting role in one of my all-time favorite movies “Good Will Hunting”, for which he won an Academy Award. He played the role of psychologist Sean McGuire who must help a young, troubled, working class genius, played by Matt Damon, get his act together. With this role, he taught me about love and what it means to be truly happy. True happiness only occurs when you love something more than you love yourself. I listen to those words of his and I strive to one day feel and understand exactly what that dialogue means.
I know I am a bit late on this article; Robin Williams died almost two weeks ago, and that’s like two months in internet time. Well, to tell you the truth, I didn’t see much of a point in discussing any of this two weeks ago. I’m not saying I wasn’t sad that he had passed, I was absolutely devastated. I’ll even admit that I felt my eyes well with tears more than once during the first few days following his death. I just didn’t see the whole purpose in writing about what everyone else was writing about at the same time. I discussed my sadness on my Twitter page, but that was about it. At that point, nothing in my article would differentiate from anything else in anyone of the millions of other articles on the internet about Williams’ death…that was until a couple of days ago.
After Williams’ death, I decided to watch a couple of his movies, which was probably a pretty popular thing to do at this point. I watched “Good Will Hunting” again; “Dead Poets Society”; I still have “Aladdin” on hold at the library; but then I decided to boot up Netflix and I saw that “The Fisher King” was on Netflix. I decided to try it out having heard good things and knowing that Williams gained an Oscar nod for his role. It wasn’t until after I finished watching this movie; actually, it was halfway through, that I decided I needed to write this article. “The Fisher King” is a film that accurately portrays what Williams was to me; he was a dreamer.
“The Fisher King” is the story of a radio broadcaster (Jeff Bridges) who is guilt-ridden due to his broadcast inspiring a man’s killing spree. He then meets psychotic homeless man, Parry (Robin Williams), whose wife died in the spree. After meeting Parry, he decides to help him out in order to get some good karma. Robin Williams gives a performance for the ages, establishing depth and emotion out of thin air. His character lost his mind due to the tragic, and graphic, loss of his wife and he now believes he is a knight on a quest for the Holy Grail, which is hidden within New York City. Parry is such a happy go lucky guy that it’s impossible to dislike him. From the very first moment you see him, raising his wooden sword and garbage can lid shield, he captivates the screen with his presence and creates a person all of his own. He felt so at home with this character, maybe it’s due to the fact that he’s actually like this. Not psychotic, but ambitious.
While I was swept away by his performance throughout the entire film, there was one certain scene that really got to me, the one scene that made me need to write this. It was the scene in which Jeff Bridges character and his girlfriend take Robin Williams and the woman he loves on a “double date” to a Chinese restaurant. At the end of a dinner of quirky antics and interesting conversation, Williams begins to sing a song to his date. The song is “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady” which is most famously from the 1939 film “At the Circus”. It wasn’t the words he was singing, but the way he was singing it that really showed that we truly lost a treasure. I will proudly admit that I began to cry during this scene. He wasn’t singing loudly, it was kind of under his breath, but loud enough so the few other people in the restaurant could still hear. He sings and as the camera pans out to show the rest of the restaurant, you see several people, with their elbows resting on their chairs, silently listening to Williams’ song.
There is another scene that really made me think about Williams’ impact upon me and the rest of the human race, and that was the scene where he follows Lydia (his date later in the movie) through the subway and as he follows her, the crowds of NYC patrons on their way to wherever they need to go begin to pair up and dance. Each person swaying with the music and there’s Williams walking through it all trying to get a dance with a woman he says he loves. I found this moment to be quite beautiful, showing us the psyche of this man who only sees the sunny side of life. Even in his current state of psychotic madness, homelessness, and lovelorn, he still manages to see dancing. It reminds me of how Williams manages to make all of us look at the good things through his manic performances and hilarious charm. I know that at the end of his life, Williams wasn’t too keen on the sunny side of anything, but I really hope that he understood just how big of a deal he was and all the happiness he imposed. It sure was a lot.
My first encounter with Robin Williams was during a time I can’t even quite remember. He played a role of a Genie who was summoned from a lamp by a young street urchin. Although he was physically never on screen, I can still remember hearing his booming voice as a child that beckoned for my undivided attention, and I gladly gave it to him, even as an infant. This is just one reminder of why Williams’ presence on screen will never be forgotten. Even in his lesser films he demanded to be heard and we listened intently. On August 11, 2014 we all lost a piece of ourselves. Even as the darkness descended upon his own little world, Williams continued to grant us with the great gift of laughter. You’ll only understand once you love something more than you love yourself.
That’s not how I will remember him though. No way! When I sit down and share “Aladdin” with my children, I’m not going to think of Williams as the man who took his own life; I’m going to think of him as the man who made all of our lives just a bit sweeter. I’m going to think of Sean McGuire, John Keating, Patch Adams, Adrian Cronauer, and Parry, the mighty knight of New York City. I’m going to think of that scene from “The Fisher King”, where he serenades his sweet Lydia in the old Chinese restaurant because, for the briefest of moments, in his white suit and pants, he truly looked like a Knight in shining armor.
Robin Williams: July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014