Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Fisher King, The

US movie (1991). Columbia TriStar. Pr Debra Hill, Lynda Obst. Dir Terry Gilliam. Spfx Dennis Dion. Screenplay Richard LaGravenese. Novelization The Fisher King * (1991) by Lenore Fleischer. Starring Jeff Bridges (Jack Lucas), Amanda Plummer (Lydia), Mercedes Ruehl (Anne), Robin Williams (Parry). 137 mins. Colour.

Manhattan radio DJ Lucas stupidly spurs an insane phone-in caller to mass murder, and his life goes on the skids. Virtually down and out, he meets tramp Parry (for Parsifal), who is convinced Lucas has been sent to him as "The One" who will help retrieve the Grail (disguised as a presentation goblet) from an East Side plutocrat's castle-like home. But the questers have enemies, personified in the flame-belching figure of the Red Knight (much like the mysterious horned rider in Gilliam's earlier Time Bandits [1981]), who pursues Parry (or is pursued by him) through the Manhattan streets, invisible to others; the Red Knight is also equated with the slaughter Lucas inspired three years earlier, in which Parry saw his wife's brains blown out. All seems lost for the two men when Parry, chased again by the Red Knight, is beaten into a coma by thugs; but Lucas, driven by shame over his own selfishness, steals the Grail, thereby curing Parry and reuniting both men with their loved ones.

It is possible to read TFK at face value as not a fantasy at all, or at most as a fantasy of Perception, its fantastications being not real but Parry's crazed Delusions. However, a different reading shows TFK as Instauration Fantasy of a very high order: when we see the Red Knight we are experiencing a perceptual shift that allows us access to a perfectly valid alternative Reality; and the kitsch goblet does indeed restore the Fisher King to life. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.