Monday, May 02, 2005


The myth of the Fisher King, roughly distilled from numerous variants, goes:

Once a young prince, on a quest to prove his valour and worth, was preparing to camp alone in a dark thick wood. He lit a fire and set himself near it for warmth when a vision of the divine grace of God appeared in the flames. The prince was stunned to see before him the Holy Grail made of fire, and heard a commanding voice tell him his role was henceforth to be keeper of the Grail and its mysteries would be open to him.

The prince, however, had other ideas, and sought power and wealth and dominance over other men. He tried to wrest the Grail from its fiery pedestal only to find himself woefully burnt. All his long life, these wounds never healed.

When the prince had become an exhausted old king, he lay dying alone in his lavish bed, surrounded by the objects he and his knights had plundered from castles and monastaries whilst seeking the Grail. His knights knew his death was near and were busy fighting each other for the right to succeed their liege, and his vast empire and his endless resources were no consolation to the king, whose hands were blistered claws covered in grue. A fool--a simple man--entered the king's castle and somehow ended up in the king's private chamber. Seeing merely an old man miserable and in obvious pain, the fool asked "What ails you sir?"

"I am thirsty," said the king.

The fool immediately produced a simple skin bag and poured into his own humble cup a drought of clear water. The king, as he reached for the cup, felt for the first time in many decades that his hands no longer hurt. They had healed completely! And the cup he held was no simple wooden mug, but the Grail itself, the very symbol of God's grace.

"How have you discovered what my most brave and scholarly servants were unable to bring me?" the king asked, astounded at his good fortune.

His explanation: "You were thirsty. I gave you water."

Gilliam's film holds up--I'd not seen it since the theatrical release ages ago. Funny that the only things I remembered were Robin Williams' nude scene in Central Park and the fact that I found Amanda Plummer really hot(?!). There's a lot of Brazil and Time Bandits and Python here, of course, but the end result is no mishmash. Have I grown tired of Robin Williams the actor? Yes. But at one time he was surprisingly good, as The Fisher King reminds us.

Jeff Bridges is great as an '80s update of the Fisher King. He must develop actual love and compassion, and fails in this quest several times, falling again and again into the same shallow traps into which we all occasionally stumble, misinterpreting what success means and what his mission should be. And Mercedes does Ruehl. Not as great as I remember it being but still well worth the 2 hours.