Robin Williams’ dark realism

I already miss Robin Williams. He was smart thoughtful talented and fascinating. Funny? Oh my god yes. Nobody was funnier. I remember accidentally tuning in to the very first episode of Mork and Mindy and being paralyzed with laughter over the antics of an amazing new comedy star.

Now that he’s gone people have been asking me to recommend some of his films. Everybody can think of some favourite performance of course but I immediately started thinking of the roles he played that suddenly make for really really uncomfortable viewing given the circumstances of his death. At first I thought of these films as a “not recommended until maybe a year from now” list but that’s not really what this is.

The truth is Williams addressed real issues all the time in his films. He didn’t shy away from uncomfortable truths and I think that a lot of viewers are going to seek these films out precisely because these stories hurt a bit too much. If you want to honour Williams’ memory by simply laughing away the pain check out Mork & Mindy or one of his brilliant standup comedy sets. If you want to plunge headfirst into some uncomfortable tales of depression self-strangulation trauma and suicide press on….

The World According to Garp (1982). Two years after Popeye Williams dove into serious dramatic leading man territory with this flick which contains one of my favourite Robin Williams performances. Go on and watch it — just be aware that it’s the story of Garp’s life beginning to end which means we see him die. It’s a horribly unjust death as the man gets shot by a deranged cultist for daring to speak out against the self-mutilation practices of something called the Ellen James Society. Oh and that’s after Garp’s son dies in a car accident he sees his mother get shot and is forbidden from attending her funeral. Yeah. The posters didn’t really focus on any of that. They kind of focused more on that airplane sticking hilariously out of the side of a house.

Good Morning Vietnam (1987). Everybody loves this movie and with good reason. It’s funny it’s tragic it’s marvelous. So what makes it so uncomfortable to watch today? Not much — just one little joke. While ranting on the airwaves Williams throws in a little song “Viva Da Nang” which morphs into a spoof of a Roger Miller song complete with the lyrics “Da Nang me Da Nang me why don’t they get a rope and hang meeeeeee….”

The Fisher King (1991). Another terrific movie that just happens to be steeped in clinical depression murder and suicide. Jeff Bridges’ character is ruined both financially and mentally when he mouths off to a psychopath who then goes on a murder spree. Williams’ character lost his wife (and sanity) in the same attack and now lives in a fantasy world after being catatonic for years. Even on his good days he hallucinates horrible doom for himself. Yikes.

World’s Greatest Dad (2009). Willams plays a single father whose only son (a complete jerk) dies from auto-erotic asphyxiation. The grieving papa cleans up the body zips up the corpse’s fly and makes the whole embarrassing scene look like a suicide complete with a note. The note gets media attention and the once-unpopular kid becomes an idol to the classmates who ostracized him. An amazingly edgy dark comedy that is still something of a hidden gem. (It lost nearly 10 million bucks at the box office.) It’s on Netflix so steel yourself for some really grim humour and give it a try.