Thursday, March 3, 2011

Masculinity Movies - The Fisher King (1991)

Eivind Skjellum, the man behind Masculinity Movies, offers an in-depth and thoughtful review of the major ideas in Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King (1991), starring Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges in a very different kind of "buddy film."

This is one of my favorite films - even though the final shot just before the credits roles is terribly annoying and not fitting the film that preceded it. Bridges and Williams are perfect for these roles and have great chemistry.
The Fisher King - Synopsis

Self-obsessed New York shock jock Jack Lucas is about to hit it big as a TV celebrity when disaster strikes and one of his radio listeners goes on a killing spree. He is plunged into a dark night of the soul from which he can recover only through a process of redemption. His chance for healing comes along when Perry, a deranged man who lost his wife to mentioned radio listener, sets his eyes on him and identifies him as "the one", the man chosen to reclaim the Holy Grail. The ensuing journey weaves Jack and Perry's worlds together and promises psychological healing for the both of them. But before they can be released from their respective private hells, they must join forces to vanquish the demonic Red Knight who keeps them there.
Skjellum uses the archetypal approach of Jungian analyst Robert Johnson (who wrote a short book on the Fisher King myth) as the foundation for his explication - but even if you are not familiar with Jungian approaches to masculinity, this article provides background to the Percival myth for those not familiar with the story of the Fisher King and the Holy Grail.

A Mythic Journey for Modern Man

Eivind Figenschau Skjellum

Right out of Arthurian lore comes the famous Fisher King myth, a story about a wounded masculine feeling function and the subsequent healing of it by a fool. It comes in many forms, but the version told by Perry in this movie starts with a prince who has to sleep alone in a forest to prove he can be King.

Alone by himself at night, he is visited by a sacred vision of a fire with a holy Grail in it. A voice tells him that he shall be the keeper of the Grail that he may heal the hearts of men.

The young prince is overcome by feelings of grandiosity and reaches in to grab it. The Grail disappears and the boy’s hand is left terribly wounded. Another version of the same myth leaves him with an arrow through his testicles.

In all versions of the story, the wound grows deeper as the years pass, and the boy – now King – knows by consequence no joy or love in his life. He is always miserable. He begins to die.

The Fisher King Wound in Modern Man

I want to examine the wound itself before digging into the movie’s plot. In his short book on the Fisher King myth, Robert A Johnson talks about this wound as “probably the most common and painful wound which occurs in our Western world”. Robert A Johnson explains to us that it is a wound “in the male, generative, creative part of his being” and that it “affects every sense of value in his psychological structure”.

So how does the wound appear? The playful, active boy who is told to sit down and be quiet receives a shock (wound) to a nervous system that only seconds ago was so alive. The mother who shames her son’s sexuality “shoots an arrow through his testicles” and wounds his sexual feeling function. A son who requests his father’s blessing and receives only his aloofness and temper ends up distrusting men and his own masculinity and a deep wound cuts through his psyche (Robert Bly refers to this as the father’s axe blow).

If the wound were only an issue of family systems gone wrong, maybe we wouldn’t be so ill off. Alas, the weapons by which the wounds are inflicted are woven into the very fabric of our society, leaving us scarred all over by the time we turn twenty. Maybe we divulge an authentic spiritual experience to our local religious leader and find ourselves targeted and programmed, like sheep, with the officially sanctioned version of religious “truth”. Or maybe we go to school to learn the soul-devouring “truth” that the only valid way of perceiving the world is through our rational faculties. Whatever the cause, the wound grows ever deeper.

So in my opinion, the pertinent question isn’t whether we have a wound. Rather, it is – how can we heal it?

Go read the whole post - there's much, much more.


Eivind F S said...

Thanks for featuring my review, William. It was very challenging to write it - Terry Gilliam has taken quite a few liberties with the source material...


Eivind F S said...

Thanks for featuring my review, William. It was very challenging to write it - Terry Gilliam has taken quite a few liberties with the source material...