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Film / The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

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"I am Don Quixote!"

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is a film directed by Terry Gilliam, and written by Gilliam and Tony Grisoni. It is a fantasy-adventure-comedy inspired by (or rather themed after) The Ingenious Nobleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, the landmark novel of Spanish literature by Miguel de Cervantes.

It tells the story of a movie director, Toby Grisoni (Adam Driver). He's in Spain, in La Mancha, filming a vodka commercial themed after Don Quixote, and fears his affair with Jacqui (Olga Kurylenko), the wife of his boss (Stellan Skarsgård), might be discovered. He decides to visit the village where his student project, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, took place ten years before — he filmed it using locals instead of professional actors. There he meets the old shoemaker who he chose to play Don Quixote, Javier Sanchez (Jonathan Pryce), who has become completely mad, thinking he is the literary hero, donning an armor and mistaking Toby for his trusty squire, Sancho Panza.

The pair then embark on a bizarre journey, with Toby jumping back and forth in his mind between the 21st and 17th centuries. Gradually, like the infamous knight himself, Toby becomes progressively consumed by an illusory world and soon unable to distinguish dreams from reality.

The project became known as one of the most infamous cases of Production Curse in the history of moviemaking, with Gilliam unsuccessfully attempting to get it off the ground a total of eight times over the span of nearly three decades. Pre-production started all the way back in 1991. A first filming attempt happened in 2000 and failed due to unpreparedness, bad luck and various other problems getting in the way. That particular disaster was chronicled in the documentary Lost in La Mancha, which was initially intended to be the movie's making-of.

After many years (and following some other projects of Gilliam that also ran into troubled productions), a successful shooting eventually started in October 2016 and completed in June 2017. The film premiered on May 19, 2018 in France during the closure of the Cannes Film Festival, followed by wide releases in some other European countries. Its eventual US release was a one-night theatrical showing on April 10, 2019. A sequel documentary to Lost in La Mancha, titled He Dreams of Giants, by the same directors and dealing with Gilliam's mindset and determination in finishing the film, was released in November 2019.

The trailer can be seen here.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote provides examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: Toby keeps referring to Melissa as 'Sarah'.
  • Actor Allusion: Óscar Jaenada, who starred in a biopic about Romani singer Camarón de la Isla (and is popularly believed to be Romani in real life), plays another Romani here.
  • Aggressive Categorism: Javier/Quixote considers Toby as a "peasant", and therefore states he's Book Dumb and can only listen to the words and "look at the pictures".
  • Artistic License – History: Humor related to the Spanish Inquisition plays when Toby's previous claim of having a Jewish grandmother is thrown against him in his 17th century-set dream. In real life, solely being accused of Judaism by a random peasant (who in this case was a Muslim, not the most reliable source in the Inquisition's eyes) would have earned Toby little to no trouble unless solid evidence of the claim was presented as well.note  Of course, given that the whole sequence is a dream, it could chalked up to Toby not knowing how the Spanish Inquisition really worked outside of the popular stereotype.
  • Artistic License – Law: Javier's neighbors maintain a shoddy, makeshift Quixotic masquerade for many years in an attempt to help him with his madness, as he seems to have no family or legal support of any kind. In real life, Spain has a stellar healthcare system that is also a big part of their culture, so in a real scenario, Javier would have been hospitalized perfunctorily and without economic expenses at the first signs of madness (and institutionalized, or placed on social support, if his condition happened to require a lifelong treatment), and few would have not considered it the best for him.
  • Artistic License – Law Enforcement: Spain is a first world country with a centuries-long convoluted political background and an equally long history of terrorism (Muslim, Basque, Catalan, left-wing, right-wing, you name it), so there's just no way you could get away with getting a cop shot no matter how much money or connections you had. It could be rather said Spain is actually one of the hardest countries out there to try to buy your way out of a shootout with a police force.
  • Becoming the Mask: The probably already senile Javier became deluded at some point during the filming of Toby's student project when playing Don Quixote, and kept thinking and acting like he is the character ever since.
  • Bittersweet Ending: On one hand, Javier dies, and Toby, who very likely has derailed his already lowly film director career, inherits his Quixote madness. On the other hand, at least Javier dies with a measure of happiness and Toby is finally reunited with Angelica.
  • The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: Toby dodges a knife thrown by Angelica and it lands on the head of a carnival figure behind him.
  • Blood Is Squicker in Water: Toby washes out Quixote's self-inflicted wounds in a creek, staining the clear water red.
  • A Bloody Mess: In Toby's dream, Don Quixote stabs several bladders of wine hanging the attic, causing the red wine to leak through the floorboards on to the members of the Inquisition below, who think it is blood.
  • Burn the Witch!: Toby thinks Alexei has strapped Angelica to a cross and is planning to burn her as part of the Holy Week celebrations. It is actually a delusion caused by Toby's slipping sanity. She is strapped to a cross, but what he sees as flames are just billows of cloth intended to simulate fire.
  • The Cameo: Spanish cult actress Rossy de Palma plays one of the women at the settlement.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: Russian billionaire and Don Quixote fan Alexei Miiskin throws a very lavish several-days long party in a local castle he bought, with Spanish 17th century costumes for everyone, and the Spanish Holy Week is celebrated during the festivities. Alexei basically throws tons of money around because he can, and for his own amusement.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Both Toby's boss and Alexei are very suspicious and very jealous when it comes to Jacqui and Angelica, respectively.
  • Dub Name Change: For undiscernible reasons, the Spanish dub changes Toby's surname from Grisoni to Grant.
  • Dying as Yourself: The fatal fall gives Javier his sanity back, and he dies telling Toby his real name and profession and reminds him that he [Toby] thought he [Javier] had "the kind of face you see in insurance commercials".
  • Easily Forgiven: The big trouble Toby, Javier and The Gypsy caused at the beginning, which resulted in a cop getting severely injured by his own gun of all things, gets easily forgotten about, as Alexei showers the local police in money to keep them quiet.
  • Extreme Libido: Jacqui badly wants intercourse with Toby in the climax.
  • Gold Fever: Inverted. Toby finds a random stash of Spanish Empire-era gold coins in midst of a field, which turns out to be actually an hallucination with a bunch of lead pieces.
  • Handy Cuffs: The Gypsy takes advantage of the fact that his hands are cuffed in front of him to choke one of the police men and take control of the police car.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Angelica gave up on her dreams to become an actress in Madrid and became a model, then a high class escort girl.
  • I Kiss Your Foot: Alexei drops a hors d'oeuvre on the toe of his boot and forces Angelica to lick it off to demonstrate that he owns her.
  • Informed Judaism: Toby mentions having a Jewish grandmother when trying to find common ground with a crypto-Muslim. This backfires later when said crypto-Muslim tries to divert suspicion from the Spanish Inquisition by telling them he can help them "find a Jew".
  • Malaproper: Javier/Quixote keeps saying "squirrel" instead of "squire". He keeps doing it despite being corrected several times. In the Spanish version, he says "escordero" (or "slag") instead of "escudero", the actual word for "squire."
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Toby is talking to a man in a bar in Spanish with subtitles showing what they are saying. Toby notices this and shoves the subtitles away.
  • Lost in Character: Javier kept thinking he is Don Quixote long after the filming of Toby's student project.
  • Metafictional Title: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is the name of Toby's student film; the making of which sets in motion the events which will catch up with him 10 years later. Scenes of it appear as a Film Within a Film when Toby discovers a bootleg DVD of it.
  • Mistaken for Terrorist: Toby sees robed figures hiding in the camp and thinks they are the terrorists the police are looking for, and becomes convinced that he is going to be executed. They are actially illegal immigrants from Morocco who are hiding from the authorities.
  • Napoleon Delusion:
    • The film adds another layer of delusion by having a man pretending he is the famous fictional character Don Quixote, who himself is a deluded Daydream Believer thinking he is a medieval knight in the Cervantes epic.
    • Toby himself takes the mantle of Don Quixote after Javier's death at the end, having become just as mad as Javier was.
  • No Name Given: Toby's boss is only ever referred to as "The Boss" while the mysterious Romani man is only called "The Gypsy".
  • Old Flame: Angelica for Toby. The two of them got very close when Toby filmed his student movie project, then they parted ways for ten years.
  • Painting the Medium: Midway through his Spanish-language conversation with Raul, Toby brushes aside the subtitles, saying that they don't need them because they understand each other perfectly. The subtitles make a tinkling sound as they fall away.
  • Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Death: It starts raining when Javier dies.
  • Politically Correct History: Javier/Quixote once reprimands Toby for sounding religiously intolerant towards what he believes to be some praying Moors. The literary Don Quixote would have never defended any kind of religious tolerance, however, as his medieval Christian ideals effectively set him against Islam by definition (he even occasionally speaks against "Pagan" Muslims in the actual text). Possibly an in-universe example, given that Javier is actually a present day man with modern sensibilities, and perhaps he is not familiar enough with the book's details (actually not many Spaniards are) to know how Quixote would have reacted to the Moors in his place. Still, Javier/Quixote also off-handedly says that the Moors worship a "pagan god", so some of the original Don Quixote's sensibilities remain.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Toby makes fun of LGBTI representation by lightly pretending not to know the exact acronym when the topic is brought up.
  • Railing Kill: Toby accidentally causes Javier/Quixote to fall to his death from a stone railing.
  • Sanity Slippage: Javier started losing his sanity when Toby was filming The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. And it progressively happens to Toby as well ten years later.
  • Self-Deprecation: Terry Gilliam made sure the hell he went through all these years to get the movie off the ground is alluded to here and there.
    • A message at the beginning of the film indicates it comes after it's been "25 years in the making... and unmaking."
    • The Boss comments on how the —totally unexpected— rain at the end of the film will ruin the filming of the commercial. The film's production back in 2000 was marred in part by such a thing, as chronicled in Lost in La Mancha.
  • Self-Offense: Toby accidentally clobbers Javier with the stone arm of a statue when Javier is running to his rescue in Jacqui's bedroom at Alexei's castle.
  • Show Within a Show: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is actually the name of a film Toby made as student project.
  • Take That!:
    • Alexei is rather unsubtly compared to both Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump. "He's in the anal stage. Like Trump."
    • Like Gilliam in real life, Toby also fires a shot to the controversy around LGBTI representation in cinema by nonchalantly mispelling the acronym.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Toby discovers Javier/Quixote flagellating himself with thorned branches, leaving deep cuts on his back.
  • Title Drop: The name of Toby's first film, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, is pronounced when The Boss buys the DVD from The Gypsy.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: The film plays with this, often leaving initially ambiguous if Javier and Toby's increasingly wacky finds are somehow real or just random but absurdly appropriated happenings. One of them is implied to have been All Just a Dream. Then played straight with Toby at the end when he goes Quixote-mad.
  • Toros y Flamenco: Subverted. Spain's portrayal in this film is outlandish, almost certainly deliberately so, but it doesn't play any of this trope's classical stereotypes straight (there are no toros, for example, and very little flamenco). Interestingly, the film instead exaggerates other, more modern Spanish stereotypes that only people very acquainted with the country's current landscape might recognize, like the problem with the Moroccan immigration, the high criminality of Spanish Romani, the national unemployment forcing young adults into desperate jobs, and the perception that the nation is a playground for rich foreigners.
  • Translation Convention: A strange example. Early in the film, Spanish and English are kept concretely separate as characters talk (or attempt to talk) in one or the other. When Toby talks to Raul in the bar, they at first speak in subtitled Spanish, but then Toby brushes aside the subtitles, and we then hear the conversation in English. From there on out, most of the dialogue is in English, but there is still some brief moments of Spanish, so it's not entirely clear whether the trope is still in effect.
  • Tuckerization: Toby Grisoni's name is derived from scriptwriter Tony Grisoni.
  • Waterfall Shower: After Toby falls through the rotten boards into the cave, he discovers Angelica standing under a waterfall at the mouth.
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: While lost in a sandstorm, Toby screams at the heavens "Who wrote this ending?!"
  • Windmill Crusader:
    • Javier/Quixote has hallucinations and attacks windmills believing them to be giants, just like the Trope Maker himself. He also sees Toby as Sancho Panza, and sees Muslim pilgrims when he's actually looking at a flock of sheep.
    • Toby attacks windmills thinking they are giants as well, at the end. Earlier on, Toby believes he found gold coins but late realizes that they're actually steel washers.