Posts Tagged 'Existentialism'

It’s been three years since Robin Williams tragically took his life and we’re still missing his influence here on Drozbot. Not specifically in comedic frame – although Mork and Mindy was part of a general ‘opening up’ to Sci-Fi throughout the 1970s – but more through his ongoing struggle with the human condition. That’s not to say the legacy of films he has left us isn’t without its otherworldly moments, but there’s a much richer, over-arching theme tied into these that shouldn’t be ignored.

Williams’ early on in his career engaged in the tradition of existential film when he starred in The World According to Garp (1982) – a cinematic tradition that stretches back through Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death (1946) and Edward A Blatt’s Between Two Worlds (1944). Before Spike Jonez and Charlie Kaufman cornered the market on ontological oddities, Williams was already laying the foundations as an actor willing to tackle the more problematic topics of human existence.

Returning to the film adaptation of John Irving’s novel about T.S. Garp, the theme of the world being both insane and full of sorrow resonates at the heart of William’s career and his life. Nine years after this film, and he’s co-starring in Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King (1991) – a warped adaptation of the Arthurian myth, with a pinch of Don Quixote mixed in. Once again in this, Gilliam’s exploration of what constitutes insanity in an already ludicrous world seems the ideal vehicle for Williams. Two years later and the actor returns to fantastical existentialism in Being Human (1993), a film which depicts a protagonist experiencing multiple lives from the Stone Age to modernity. Then, just a year later, Williams’ hectic film schedule delivers What Dreams May Come (1994). Vincent Ward’s exploration of a conceptual afterlife offers the incredible and the tragic in equal measures, as the protagonist chooses to rescue his suicidal wife over a solitary existence in paradise. By the turn of the 21st Century, the vehicle may well have become high-tech, but the theme of Marl Columbus’ Bicentennial Man (1999) remains familiar as William’s robot learns what it means to be human. Group all of these films together and the argument that they each form a part of an ongoing existential project becomes compelling.

The sad reality was that Williams was personally wracked with moments of energetic zaniness and crushing depression and self doubt. While some have talked about his suicide as the ultimate act of self-determination, others have lamented over the fact that his psychological pain simply became too much for him to bear. Whatever his motivations in the closing hours of his life, his decision means that he joins the likes of Bill Hicks, Hunter S Thompson and David Foster Wallace – all great and incredibly humane American artists, and all of whom turned existence into an act of choice rather than an inevitability.

Tags: , , , ,