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Film / The Fisher King

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If you are looking for the trope about rulers whose lands reflect their state of being, hop on over to Fisher King.

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.

Jack Lucas (Bridges), a cynical, arrogant shock-jock talk radio host, lives a selfish, high-profile life until his insensitive and ill-timed advice spurs an unstable caller to commit a mass shooting at a crowded Manhattan restaurant. The incident costs Jack his career, and his guilt sends him into a deepening spiral of bitterness. Three years later, Jack runs a video-rental store with his long-suffering girlfriend Anne. 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 (Williams), a deluded homeless man on a mission to find the Holy Grail. Jack learns, to his horror, that Parry is a former English professor Driven to Madness by the death of his wife, who was murdered in the mass shooting Jack unwittingly caused. Parry is pursued by a hallucinatory Red Knight, a terrifying figure that seems to appear whenever he comes too close to remembering his former life.


At first Jack believes that Parry has come into his life to punish him for his sins, but gradually he begins to hope that by helping Parry, he himself might be forgiven. With Anne's help, Jack attempts to rescue Parry by giving him a job and even helping him meet the mousy young woman whom Parry has deemed his princess lointaine. But Parry insists that the only thing that he wants of Jack is help in his quest to find the Grail. Desperate for peace, Jack allows himself to be roped into the mad quest in the hopes that it will bring him the healing he seeks.


This movie contains examples of:

  • Abnormal Ammo: Parry uses a plunger as an arrow.
  • Adorkable: Parry and Lydia, especially when they're on their date.
  • Accidental Bargaining Skills: Jack initially attempts to quiet his conscience by just giving Parry some money, and keeps increasing the amount after misinterpreting Parry's lack of reaction (which is actually stunned pleasure at this, as far as he's aware, unmotivated act of charity).
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys:
    Anne: I think man was made in the Devil's image, and women were created outta God. 'Cause, after all, women can have babies, which is kinda like creating. And which also accounts for the fact that women are so attracted to men. 'Cause let's face it, the Devil is a helluva lot more interesting. I've slept with some saints in my day, and believe me, I know what I'm talking about. Egh-boy!
  • Arc Words: "Forgive me". What the movie is all about.
  • The Atoner: Jack tries so hard to help Parry because he feels responsible for his condition, as it was an offhand comment of his that drove his wife's killer into a rampage.
  • A World Half Full
  • Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other/Kiss-Kiss-Slap: Jack and Anne often bicker and their relationship seems to be more sexual than anything. But there are moments that show that both do really love each other. Anne herself actually wants Jack to tell her he loves her, and it isn't until the very end that he finally says this to her. The result: a slap across the face immediately followed by a passionate kiss.
  • Badass Longcoat: Parry wears one in that same scene. Jack later dons the same one, along with the rest of Parry's knight attire, when he "storms" Langdon Carmichael's place to retrieve the"grail".
  • Batter Up!: The teens use bats to beat Jack and later Parry.
  • Betty and Veronica: Lydia is Betty and Anne is Veronica.
  • Big Applesauce: The film takes place in New York City.
  • Big Bad: From Parry's perspective, the Red Knight is this to him. While it's just a hallucination, it's also the only major antagonist force in the film.
  • Brick Joke: Before his on-air comments to his psychotic listener result in a bloodbath, he's practising lines for a sitcom, On The Radio. Shortly after he loses his radio job, his role is given to another actor. Much later in the movie, we find out that On The Radio was cancelled after one season.
  • Broken Bird: Lydia doesn't want another lover due to being hurt by one in the past, and believes Parry will do the same.
  • Buffy Speak: A woman (played by Kathy Najimi) wants to rent some funny videotape, like a "Katharine Hepburny-Cary Granty kinda thing" or a modern "Goldie Hawny-Chevy Chasy kinda thing" . She gets a "kinda big titty-spread cheeky kinda thing", Ordinary Peepholes.
  • The Cameo: Tom Waits has an uncredited one as a disabled war veteran who chats with Jack in Central Station.
  • Camp Gay: Just a few inches away from Chewing the Scenery for Michael Jeter.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Jack can't tell Anne he loves her until the end.
  • Catch-Phrase: "Forgive me!" is the catch phrase for Jack's character on the sitcom On The Radio. (It's an Homage to Steve Martin's stand-up catch phrase, "Well, excuse me!")
  • The Chosen One: Parry believes Jack is the one destined to retrieve the Holy Grail.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Most of, if not all, the hobos, Parry in particular.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Parry tends to misunderstand what Jack is trying to say or do, such as the bargaining example above, or when he interprets Jack's attempt to convince him to abandon his insane plan to get the "grail" from a rich man's house as concern for his safety. Another is when Jack is ranting to him in the park.
    Jack: You are out of your fucking mind!
    Parry: Bingo!
  • Conspicuous Trenchcoat: Edwin, the man who committed the massacre, wore an overcoat to hide his shotgun.
  • Coupled Couples: Jack and Anne, and Parry and Lydia. The former two act as matchmakers for the other two.
  • Crazy Homeless People: Parry, who believes that he is a knight on a quest to get the Holy Grail. Of course, it's all just a delusion.
  • Cute Clumsy Girl: Lydia.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Jack becomes really jaded after his big mistake.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Jack, mainly in response to Parry's delusions. Anne and the Transvestite have their moments as well. Even Parry, especially when he's playing off the others.
  • Death Seeker: Jack attempts to drown himself using Cement Shoes after a period of depression. Also Parry is glad when the two teens return later to beat him, due to having intense flashbacks to his wife's murder.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Jack does this when feeling uneasy about lying next to a naked Parry in the middle of Central Park:
    Jack: "Jack Lucas, found dead next to a dead, naked man. The two were dead and his companion was naked".
  • Driven to Madness: Parry's current condition is the result of this, as a result of his wife being murdered right in front of him - even getting her blood (and other things) splattered on him.
  • Dutch Angle: As expected in a Terry Gilliam film. Most prominent in the scenes with Parry and the other bums.
  • Fan Disservice: Parry dancing around naked in Central Park, covered in dirt.
  • Fish-Eye Lens: Used frequently in the film.
  • Fisher King: The Trope Namer is discussed, but not quite invoked. See Magical Realism.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Edwin wears a pair of glasses.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: The broadcast that led to Parry's wife dying: man that is clearly disturbed calling Jack's radio show to talk about how he's fed up. Jack gives him a rant about how the bourgeoisie is putting everybody down and how it's "us or them". Cut to the morning after and Jack finding out that this was the battle cry the man used to blow away an entire restaurant full of people with a shotgun before killing himself.
  • Groin Attack: One of the teens cops this from Parry. With a plunger, no less!
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: The better Jack's career is going, the more of an asshole he is.
  • Heel Realization: Jack's listening to a pitch for a TV series about cheerful homeless people, and realizing he just brushed off one of his former friends outside.
  • Heroic BSoD: Jack after learning of the massacre. He basically gives up on everything in his life.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Jack and Parry form this over the course of the movie.
  • Homeless Hero: Parry.
  • Imagine Spot: As Parry is following Lydia through Central Station, he imagines the whole place turning into a big ballroom dance. It's quite spectacular.
  • It's All About Me: Jack is like this in the beginning. His ego is ultimately lowered after the massacre.
  • Jabba Table Manners: Both Lydia and Parry have less than proper manners when at the Chinese Restaurant.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jack begins as a cynical self-aggrandizing shock-jock who doesn't care who he hurts. Even his motivation to help Parry begins as a selfish urge to assuage his own guilt, which is destroying him (he even says as much: "I thought that if I could help him...things would change for me."). His friendship with Parry teaches him to be generous to others without expecting rewards.
  • Karma Houdini: Aside from being frightened off by the hobos the first time they appear, the teens don't receive any comeuppance for putting Parry in a coma.
  • King Arthur: Parry's semi-symbolic quest for the Holy Grail.
  • King of the Homeless: Parry seems to lead his own small band of homeless people.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Any scenes in which the Red Knight appears generally take a darker turn, even if it is just a hallucination on Parry's part. In fact, all the antagonistic characters have no humorous traits, so they all count.
  • MacGuffin: The "Holy Grail". It turns out to be a cheap 1932 Christmas pageant trophy. It ends up saving three lives - two metaphorically, one literally.
  • Magic Realism: Especially the scene in Grand Central Station. There's also echoes of this when the 'grail' revives Parry.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Shame about the context...
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: While the Red Knight is certainly in Parry's head, whether or not the 'Holy Grail' really magically brings Parry out of his catatonic state or it's just the realization he's holding it that does it is never explained.
  • Meaningful Name: Parry believes himself to be on a quest for the Holy Grail. His name is a reference to Parzival/Percival, a central figure in both the grail quest and Fisher King tales.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Jack worries about being attacked by a homophobic jogger than lying next to a naked Parry in the Central Park grass.
  • Mock Guffin: Somewhat ambiguous. While it appears to be the case, the 'Holy Grail' still somehow brings Parry out of his catatonic state.
  • Mood Whiplash: Just as Parry and Lydia say their goodbyes after their date, which was quite uplifting and romantic, Parry starts having gruesome flashbacks to his wife's murder, and is chased around the city by the Red Knight. He eventually winds up by himself and is unfortunate enough to encounter the teens again.
    • After the Drag Queen's campy gallivanting, he suddenly becomes sober when Jack asks him when he lost his mind, and tells him about how all of his friends started dying (presumably from AIDS.)
  • Naked People Are Funny: Parry goes au naturale in Central Park. At the end of the movie, he's gotten Jack to do the same.
  • Nice Guy: Parry is a cheery, optimistic, friendly man, but of course, very troubled. As Jack puts it: "You are a psychotic man. A very nice psychotic man..."
  • Nice Hat: Parry has two. One for his knight attire and another for his casual clothing when out in the city.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Jack was about to commit suicide until two punks showed up and tried to set him on fire, distracting him from jumping in the river, setting up his rescue by Parry, and thus the entire plot.
  • No Name Given: Michael Jeter's character is only known as "Homeless Cabaret Singer" in the credits.
  • No Peripheral Vision: Lampshaded as Jack is breaking into Langdon Carmichael's home from the top window to get the "grail".
    Jack: Thank God nobody looks up in this town!
  • Odd Couple: Parry and Jack.
  • Oh, Crap!/Precision F-Strike:
    Jack: (after hearing about the mass murder by the fan he told to go kill yuppies) ... Fuck...
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Heard when Parry is running from the Red Knight and experiencing gruesome flashbacks.
  • Parallel Porn Titles: Jack recommends Ordinary Peepholes to a Keet customer.
  • Pride Before a Fall: Jack used to be egotistical and rude as a shock jock, before the accident he caused through his own insensitivity.
  • Redemption Quest: Everything Jack does for Parry.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Parry is the red, Jack is the blue.
  • Sarcasm-Blind: Parry doesn't tend to get Jack's sarcasm either.
  • Shock Jock: Jack Lucas
  • Shout-Out: There is a Brazil poster hanging in the Video Shop which was also directed by Terry Gilliam. And, of course, the Holy Grail subplot is a Shout-Out to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, starring Terry Gilliam.
  • Shrinking Violet: Lydia.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Edwin is heard once over the radio and his screen time is limited to a couple of flashbacks and a hallucination, yet he is the one who committed the shooting and made Parry lose his sanity.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Parry speaks like this when he fights off Jack's attackers.
    Parry: In the name of Blanche de Fleur, unhand that errant knight! You speak English? Let the bum go, dipshit!
  • Spiritual Successor: While not officially a member of the Dreamer Trilogy (Time Bandits, Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), it shares many of the same themes.
  • Spontaneous Choreography: The Central Station scene (being a Dream Sequence.)
  • Stalker with a Crush: Parry has followed Lydia around the city for a while and knows her daily routine.
  • Starmaking Role: No one knew who Michael Jeter was before this film.
  • Storming the Castle: Kind of. Though he's not taking down any villain, Jack does this when he sneaks into the castle-shaped house of millionaire Langdon Carmichael in order to steal the "Holy Grail" for Parry.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: Jack's theme when he's riding high is "I've Got the Power" by Snap.
  • Teens Are Monsters: The two brutish teens who assault Jack in the beginning of the film and who return later on to beat the crap out of Parry.
  • Transvestite: This movie may have the most lovable Drag Queen ever conceived.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Jack didn't know that Edwin wasn't right in the head when he told him over the radio to go and kill yuppies.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The last time we see the Transvestite, he is being held back by a police officer while desperately calling out to Jack for help, while Jack ignores him. We don't hear of what happened afterwards.
  • What You Are in the Dark: After Jack has broken into the Carmichael castle to steal the 'Holy Grail' for Parry, Jack discovers Langdon Carmichael himself unconscious and dying of a drug overdose. Jack considers leaving the man to die and escaping unimpeded with his prize. Instead—at considerable risk to himself, and with the knowledge that he can never take credit for the good deed—he deliberately triggers the burglar alarm and summons the police to save the man's life.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Michael Jeter's character is practically the Trope Codifier.
  • Wisdom from the Gutter: Parry practically becomes Jack's mentor.
  • World of Ham: Many characters Chew the Scenery. Mostly the homeless people, especially Parry and the Transvestite. Jack even gets into it in Central Park!


Example of: