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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.
  • 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).
  • Actor Allusion: The panhandler who approaches Jack's limo immediately following the opening scene at the studio is credited as "Limo Bum" and is played by Ted Ross. Ten years earlier, Ross played Bitterman, Arthur Bach's limo driver in Arthur (1981).
  • The Alcoholic: After losing his career and hitting rock bottom, Jack drowns his sorrows with huge amounts of (appropriately) Jack Daniels, starting to drink very early each morning and throughout the day.
  • 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's primary goal throughout the rest of the film is to help Parry because he feels responsible for his condition, as it was one of Jack's offhand comments that inadvertently lead to the murder of Parry's wife and others by an unhinged radio listener.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: 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 a thick leather and fur coat when he rescues Jack, although it appears to be run-down. Jack later dons the same one when he breaks into Langdon Carmichael's home.
  • 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.
  • Blatant Lies:
    Annie: You come to get the rest of your stuff? There ain't no stuff. It all got burned... accidentally.
  • Bowdlerization: The closed captioning for the DVD and streaming release removes a lot of the profanity (including Jack's Precision F-Strike) and changes even more, sometimes to pure nonsense. (Example; Subtitle: "That vexes me off!" Actual line: "That pisses me off!")
  • Brick Joke: Before his on-air comments to his psychotic listener result in a bloodbath, he's practicing 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 a few seasons.
  • 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 Grand Central Station.
    • Harry Shearer appears briefly as an actor on the sitcom Jack was originally up for until the shooting incident.
  • Camp Gay: The Transvestite Jack and Parry meet at the park has all the typical campy mannerisms, with the constantly lopsided hand movements and a high pitched voice.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Jack can't tell Anne he loves her until the end.
  • Catchphrase: "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 catchphrase, "Well, excuse me!")
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The two violent teens that nearly kill Jack (and Parry saves him from) in the first act encounter Parry again in the third act and beat him into a coma.
  • The Chosen One: Parry believes Jack is the one destined to retrieve the Holy Grail.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Parry clearly isn't all there, hallucinating "little people" floating around, the Red Knight coming after him, spouting out non sequiturs and believing that he himself is a knight on a special quest.
    • The homeless transvestite also has a rather tenuous grasp of reality.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience:
    • It's no accident that when we first meet Lydia, she's dressed head-to-foot in beige: not only does it represent how she feels about herself, but it also symbolizes her status as a blank slate on which Parry projects his romantic ideals. It's also no accident that she has bright copper-red hair (which she conceals under a hat): she believes she's dull and uninteresting, while her true self is colorful and assertive, but hidden. By the movie's end, her outfits take on a little more color as she begins to express herself.
    • It's also no accident that throughout the movie, Anne usually wears red as part of her outfits: she's very sexual, but also tender and passionate.
    • Jack likewise tends to wear a dark outer jacket over a brightly colored shirt. The dark jacket is the sort of person he tries to present to the world, professional, cynical, and respectable; the shirt, which he keeps mostly hidden but close to his heart, is the spark of playful madness Parry brings out in him.
  • 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: On one hand, there is Jack and Anne, who are together but have trouble expressing themselves to each other. On the other, there is Parry and Lydia. Parry starts off adoring Lydia from afar, when she has no idea who he is. Jack and Anne eventually act as matchmakers for the 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.
    • Also the homeless transvestite cabaret singer, and for that matter most of Parry's bum friends (particularly Old John).
  • Creator Cameo: Screenwriter Richard LaGravenese plays a character named "Strait Jacket Yuppie".
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Jack becomes really jaded after his big mistake. His first scene after he sees the news of the massacre is him working on a dead-end video store after a Time Skip giving less of a crap about his life.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The more jaded of the cast tend to be this. Jack is the most apparent, mainly in response to Parry's delusions, although it makes sense considering how much of a downward spiral his life has been. Anne and the Transvestite have their moments as well. Parry sometimes gets in on it, although a lot more playfully.
    Jack: "I can't believe that I'm on a first name basis with these people [the homeless transvestite]".
  • 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.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Jack, already a severe alcoholic, goes on a solo drinking binge while wandering the city following an emotional breakdown prompted by seeing the sitcom that he was originally going to star in. The liquor doesn't help much - he goes on to attempt suicide.
  • Dutch Angle: As expected in a Terry Gilliam film. Most prominent in the scenes with Parry and the other bums to emphasise their loony behaviour in the eyes of Jack.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: In the three year time cut, Jack goes from being a wealthy celebrity talk radio host to helping out as a sales clerk at a video store specializing in porn.
  • Fan Disservice: Parry dancing around naked in Central Park, covered in dirt.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Just before Jack catches the news of the massacre, in the background outside his high-rise apartment, there are sounds of police sirens.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Edwin wore a pair of glasses and is the perpetrator of the massacre that sets off the story.
  • Funny Background Event: To escape a frantic customer, Jack hands her the porn video Ordinary Peepholes. During Jack and Anne's subsequent conversation, the customer is in the background enthusiastically renting it at the checkout.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: The broadcast that led to Parry's wife dying: a 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.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: When Parry's wife is shot in the back of the head, all that is seen is her blood splattering all over Parry's face. It's still unnerving, though.
  • Groin Attack: One of the teens that attacks Jack suffers this from a plunger fired by Parry like an arrow when he comes to Jack's rescue.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Jack starts off as extremely self-involved and unfeeling toward other people. After reaching his rock-bottom and attempting suicide, he tries being selfless by helping Parry. Eventually this selflessness expands to being kinder to other people, and gradually his circumstances improve—but the moment it does, he begins to fall into his old patterns and soon abandons all the people who helped him get back on his feet. When he realizes he's once again become the person who ruined his own life, he makes a final effort to redeem himself by obtaining the Grail for Parry, and in the course of it performs his first genuinely selfless act (see What You Are in the Dark).
  • 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, becoming more distant towards his girlfriend, losing enthusiasm for the things he enjoyed and eventually attempting suicide.
  • Hypocrite: Jack's rant to Edwin is all about how shallow, self-absorbed, and emotionally dead the yuppies who hang around trendy bars tend to be. Jack's own lifestyle is exactly like the people he's ridiculing (on the other hand, he's probably just poking fun at Edwin by telling him what he wants to hear).
  • Imagine Spot: As Parry is following Lydia through Grand Central Station, the whole place suddenly manifests into a big ballroom dance. It is clear this is all in Parry's mind.
  • It's All About Me: After his arrogance inadvertently triggers a mass shooting, Jack can't grasp that he's not the only victim in the tragedy. While he suffers genuine guilt over his role in the shooting, he's so deep in wallowing in his own self-pity that he neglects Anne's needs, expecting her to be understanding while refusing to support her in return. Even when he's trying to help Parry, a victim of his actions, he admits that he's only doing it in the hopes that once he's made good for his sins, his life will get better.
  • Jabba Table Manners: Both Lydia and Parry have less than proper manners when at the Chinese Restaurant, constantly spilling food or eating very messily and noisily. This further serves to show the similarities between the two.
  • 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.
    • Lampshaded by Parry:
    Parry: You know you love [Anne]. It's just that you're an asshole sometimes.
    • A good example of Jack's general decency (not just towards Parry) was when on discovering Carmichael overdosed on pills, he tries to wake him up, in spite of the fact that had he been successful he would have probably been arrested for breaking and entering.
  • 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 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.
  • Large Ham: Parry is very verbally expressive and puts on a grandiose persona as a knight. And it flows through the other homeless people too, seeing as their way of greeting each other appears to be yelling at the top of their lungs.
  • Light Feminine Dark Feminine: Lydia is extremely pale, with reddish-blonde hair, and she tends to wear equally colorless, baggy outfits that conceal her figure. She's also associated with Parry's idea of the pure medieval princess. Anne has olive skin, dark hair, wears very low-cut, tight-fitting outfits, and is upfront about sex.
  • 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: Parry's hallucinations, especially the scene in Grand Central Station and the recurring appearance of the knight as a symbol of his subconscious desire to never be happy again. There's also echoes of this when the 'grail' revives Parry.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Parry when he gets naked in Central Park. 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. Though since the "Grail" is just a wealthy old man's grade school trophy, the mundane is strongly implied.
  • 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.
  • MockGuffin: Somewhat ambiguous. While it appears to be the case, the 'Holy Grail' still somehow brings Parry out of his catatonic state.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • Jack's rage at the "Forgive Me!" sitcom and his drunken fumblings afterwards are comical, until it becomes clear that he's suicidal and would have killed himself if it weren't for his encounter with the teen hooligans and Parry.
    • 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.)
  • Morality Pet: Parry is this to Jack initially, before they develop a genuine bond and friendship.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Anne's tight, skimpy outfits don't leave much to the imagination.
    • Once Jack contrives to help Parry and Lydia, he takes the former into his and Anne's apartment; Parry spends a considerable amount of time contriving reasons to stare at Anne's breasts. She's creeped out, but is subsequently quite charmed when Parry begins to compliment her while chiding Jack for not marrying her.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Jack when he watches the newsreel showing the aftermath of the mass shooting, and mentioning that his sarcastic remarks on the air prompted the killing.
    • Repeated later, when the university's building manager explains how Parry's wife was killed in the mass shooting: "You must have heard about it. That nut who listened to the radio?"
    • A less extreme example occurs after Jack's meeting with the TV show producer. While discussing a sitcom about the homeless, Jack feels guilty about ignoring the homeless transvestite whom he had previously befriended. He interrupts the meeting and runs outside to talk to the homeless man, who unfortunately had already been run off the grounds by the police.
  • 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 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!
  • No Social Skills: Parry and Lydia are both socially awkward to varying degrees. Parry is overly bombastic and Lydia is shy, reserved and clumsy. This shows thoroughly when the two are on their dinner date and spend much of it playing roughly with their food.
  • Odd Couple: Parry and Jack. One is a Cloud Cuckoolander homeless man, the other is a Jerkass slacker. Both are joined together because one is the victim and the other the inadvertent instigator of a great tragecy.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    Jack: (after hearing about the mass murder by the fan he told to go kill yuppies) ... Fuck...
  • Parallel Porn Titles: Jack recommends Ordinary Peepholes to a Keet customer.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Jack's a perfectly awful, self-centered person who badly needs to learn that his actions have consequences, but as bad as he is, the consequences he suffers (losing his entire career due to a careless comedy bit that triggers a mass shooting; being assaulted and nearly set on fire when he's about to commit suicide) are so out of all proportion that they're more horrifying than satisfying.
  • Placebo Effect: The mundane (as opposed to magical) explanation for how holding the "Grail" brought Parry out of his coma and restored him to sanity.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    Jack: (after hearing about the mass murder by the fan he told to go kill yuppies) ... Fuck...
  • 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 is for the sake of atoning for his role in getting his wife killed.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Parry is the outgoing and outlandish red, whilst Jack is the far more reserved and sensible blue.
  • Sarcasm-Blind: Parry is so relentlessly optimistic (and so focused on his fantasy quest) that he thinks everyone is just as sincere as he is, meaning that he often takes Jack's sarcasm seriously.
    Jack (muttering): Why am I surprised? I'm not surprised. I'm out of my fucking mind to even be here!
    Parry: Jack, who are you talking to?
    Jack (throwing up his arms in frustration): I'm talking to the little people!
    Parry (eagerly): Are they here?!
  • Shock Jock: Jack Lucas, who's clearly based on Howard Stern.
  • 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 is awkward, nervous, mousy, and believes that even if anyone wanted to get to know her, they'd only learn that she has no personality.
  • 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: When Parry spots his beloved Lydia making her way across a crowded Grand Central Station, the music swells and suddenly all the commuters partner up and begin a romantic waltz. As soon as he loses sight of her, the music ends, and the commuters break apart and continue on their way.
  • Spree Killer: All of the plot's drama revolves around Jack having accidentally given one of these the final push to go on a rampage and letting the guilt destroy him.
  • Stalker with a Crush:
    • Parry has followed Lydia around the city for a while without her knowledge enough to know her daily routine. Interestingly, when he confesses this to her, Lydia does not appear to be that put off.
    • A much more sinister example is Edwin, the gunman who killed several people at the bar, including Parry's wife. He was talking to Jack about being infatuated with a girl who frequented the same bar.
  • Starmaking Role: No one knew who Michael Jeter was before this film.
  • Stock Schtick:
    Parry: Good night, Manhattan! Say "good night", Jack!
    Jack: Good night, Jack!
  • 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.
  • Stylistic Suck: On the Radio, the sitcom with the "Forgive Me!" catchphrase that Jack auditioned for. When Jack and Anne watch the sitcom three years later, the scenes from the show are inane rather than funny.
  • 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.
  • Title Drop: Parry tells Jack the story of the Fisher King from Arthurian legend while they're together in Central Park.
  • Transvestite: The nameless Drag Queen Parry rescues, and who later befriends both Parry and Jack. It's hinted that he started as a gay cabaret singer who performed in drag, but slowly went insane after watching all his friends die in the AIDS crisis.
  • Trenchcoat Warfare: The crazy shooter who massacred the restaurant fueled by Jack's rants carried his shotgun concealed under a trench coat.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Jack's trajectory in the story - from crass, callous and self-absorbed to genuinely selfless.
  • 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 homeless transvestite, he is being held back by a police officer while desperately calling out to Jack for help, while Jack ignores him. When Jack later feels guilty about it and goes back to look for him, the transvestite is gone and we don't hear of what happened afterwards.
  • What You Are in the Dark: After breaking 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 uses his crossdressing skills to help play Cupid between Parry and Lydia.
  • Wisdom from the Gutter:
    • Parry practically becomes Jack's mentor. It helps that he was an actual professor before snapping.
    • Tom Waits' character also dispenses some sound wisdom. He's a homeless Vietnam veteran in a wheelchair, who correctly observes that people give him money so that they don't have to look and him and be reminded of how their own lives might have turned out had they taken a slightly different path.


Video Example(s):


Homeless Crossdresser

The crossdresser Jack and Parry meet at the park has all the typical campy mannerisms, with the constantly lopsided hand movements and a high pitched voice.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / CampGay

Media sources: