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The Fisher King is a comedy-drama film made in 1991, written by Richard LaGravenese and directed by Terry Gilliam. It stars Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer and Michael Jeter. The film is about a radio shock-jock who tries to find redemption by helping a homeless man whose life he inadvertently shattered.

Peter Travers, of Rolling Stone magazine, wrote that the film "sweeps you up on waves of humor, heartbreak and ravishing romance." Other reviewers commented on its "industrial-strength whimsy."


Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges), a cynical, arrogant shock jock talk radio host, becomes suicidally despondent after his insensitive on-air comments inadvertently prompt a depressed caller to commit multiple murders at a popular Manhattan bar. Three years later, while heavily intoxicated and depressed, he attempts suicide. Before he can do so, he is mistaken for a homeless person and is attacked and nearly set on fire by ruffians. He is rescued by Parry (Robin Williams), a deluded homeless man who is on a mission to find the Holy Grail, and tries to convince Jack to help him. Jack is initially reluctant, but comes to feel responsible for Parry when he learns that the man's condition is a result of witnessing his wife's horrific murder at the hands of Jack's psychotic caller. Parry is also continually haunted by a hallucinatory Red Knight, who terrifies him whenever he shows any confidence.

Jack learns that Parry had slipped into a catatonic state following his wife's death and had remained there for a few years. When he emerged he seemed obsessed with the tale of the legend of the Fisher King, a form of which Parry recounts to Jack. The legend varies, but all iterations possess three elements: the Fisher King was charged by God with guarding the Holy Grail, but later incurred some form of incapacitating physical punishment for his sin of pride, and had to wait for someone to deliver him from his suffering. A simpleminded knight named Percival, referred to in the movie as "The Fool", healed the wounds with kindness to the king, asking him why he suffers and giving him a cup of water to drink. The king realizes the cup is the grail and is baffled that the boy found it, as demonstrated in the closing exchange: "I've sent my brightest and bravest men to search for this. How did you find it?" The Fool laughed and said "I don't know. I only knew that you were thirsty." Echoes of the legend recur throughout the film, but in a continually shifting manner, so that it sometimes appears that Lucas is Percival to Parry's Fisher King, sometimes vice versa, and sometimes that one or the other is re-enacting part of the story with another character (most obviously in Parry's self-assigned quest to obtain the Grail from the man he believes is its guardian).

Jack seeks to redeem himself and help Parry find the Grail and find love again. Jack sets Parry up with a woman Parry has been smitten with from afar, Lydia, a shy woman who works as an accountant for a Manhattan publishing house. Jack successfully introduces them to each other and sets up an equally successful dinner date (Jack and his strong-willed girlfriend, Anne, join them). Following dinner, Parry declares his love for Lydia but is once again haunted by the Red Knight. Parry tries to escape his hallucinatory tormentor but is attacked by the very thugs from whom he had earlier rescued Jack. The beating is not fatal but causes Parry to become catatonic again.

Jack promises to find the Grail for Parry. He infiltrates the Upper East Side castle of a famous architect and retrieves the "Grail", a simple trophy. When he brings it to Parry, the catatonia is broken and Parry regains consciousness. While he and Jack lead the patients of the mental ward in a rousing rendition of "How About You?", Parry is reunited with Lydia and Jack (who had earlier broken up with Anne for dubious reasons) reunites with his love as well.


A central theme of the film, playing on the grail motif, is grace and forgiveness. For example, Jack's signature line in his potential sitcom is "forgive me," which after the shooting becomes a tormenting echo of his arrogance when he hears it repeated by the actor who took his place in the sitcom. Parry is seeking the Holy Grail, which held the wine of the Last Supper and, at the crucifixion, its theological equivalent, the blood of Christ - the physical counterpart of grace and forgiveness in Christian iconology. The Red Knight figment that Parry sees around New York represents his memories of the night his wife was killed; the dangling red drapes of the Red Knight's costume imitate the spray from the shot hitting his wife, and the flames recall the gun blast. In Wolfram Von Eschenbach's epic Parsival, the Red Knight was killed by Parsival (Parry) who then took his armor for himself. When Parsival introduces himself to King Arthur's court, Arthur names Parsival the new Red Knight.

Tagline: 'A Modern Day Tale About the Search for Love, Sanity, Ethel Merman and the Holy Grail.'


According to Gilliam's episode of The Directors (which is available on the 2-Disc DVD for Gilliam's film Time Bandits), he wanted to do the film because he was tired of doing big budget special effects films, such as his previous film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, which went over budget and cost over $45 million, nearly twice as much as King's budget of $24 million. This was the first film Terry Gilliam directed in which he was not involved in writing the screenplay, as well as Gilliam's first film not to feature any other members of Monty Python. However, it is Gilliam's second film involving the Holy Grail, the first being Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Also, according to the Directors episode, Gilliam came up with the scene where Robin Williams and Amanda Plummer meet during a huge waltz in the middle of Grand Central Stationmarker, because he felt the scene LaGravenese had written (which had a large group of people in a crowded subway listen to a homeless black woman sing with a beautiful voice) wasn't working. He was at first hesitant about this because his original intentions were to just shoot the script and that the waltz would make it "a Terry Gilliam film." The scene was shot in one night with some professional extras and others just passengers getting off the train.

The film cost $24 million to make. Box Office revenue was approximately $42 million.


Mercedes Ruehl won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role, and Robin Williams was nominated for Best Actor. Other awards were Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (P. Michael Johnston), Best Music, Original Score (George Fenton) and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Richard LaGravenese).

Mercedes Ruehl also won the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films Award for Best Supporting Actress, the American Comedy Award for Funniest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, the Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.

Robin Williams won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture in a Comedy/Musical.

Terry Gilliam won the People's Choice Award from the Toronto International Film Festivalmarker and the Silver Lion in the Venice Film Festival (the latter tied with Zhang Yimou and Philippe Garrel).

Jane Jenkings and Janet Hirshenson won an Artios Award from the Casting Society of America for Best Casting in a Feature Film (Comedy).

See also


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