In 1991, I was one year into a separation from the man I used to introduce as "the most wonderful man in the world," working slowly toward an amicable but irreparably wounding divorce. I've rarely felt so alone in the world.
Somehow I saw a trailer for a movie with Robin Williams called The Fisher King. Williams had won my heart years before with his brilliant stand-up routines and as the goofhead alien in Mork & Mindy, then in his more dramatic roles in Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society and Awakenings. Especially in the latter film, it was possible to see a depth of pain in Williams that was well-masked by his comedy, and that shared human condition resonated with my soul.
The premise of The Fisher King is this: The sanity of Williams' character, "Parry," has become unmoored after the senseless shooting of his beloved wife by a madman. Once "normal," he now lives in a homeless encampment, struggling daily against the dark force that threatens constantly to overtake him while simultaneously he extends charity, warmth and kindness to others.
I don't know how I found time and opportunity to sneak off to sit in a theater alone and watch The Fisher King. I only remember coming away from it changed. Not healed, exactly, certainly not led from the darkness of the time into a lighter place, but having been handed a sword with which to do battle. In the film, Parry's madness is made manifest in the form of a fierce and fiery figure on horseback which appears whenever something triggers a memory of his wife. Each time, his fear overwhelms him—until he finally discovers what he needs to confront the ominous form.
Wandering, lost, through this very dark time, I had lost all my power, had allowed the heart wound to bring me to my knees. Watching this film and the powerful performances of both Robin Williams and Michael Jeter, I began to find my legs again.
The screenplay, written by Richard LaGravenese, reiterates the theme that there is a very, very fine line—a gossamer thread—between sanity and madness, one step from sunlight to shadow. In watching the film, I heard a voice calling, saw a light shining—albeit far off—which led me back toward the light. Twenty-three years later, I still stand, sword drawn in readiness to ward off the darkness that I know could come for me at any time.
Tragically, we have lost Robin Williams to that same shadow, that dark sadness which menaces anyone with a tender, open heart. Like his character in The Fisher King, he spent his life reaching out to others, even as his own demons taunted him. May he step now into eternal light and peace, and may we always remember his gift.
To watch a short clip of the movie which includes both Robin Williams and Michael Jeter, click here.