The Fisher King (1991) A Glimpse Into PTSD And Depression


Mental illness must be a hard state of mind to live with and here in Terry Gilliam’s “The Fisher King” we see two characters deal with two forms of illness in contrasting ways.

Bridges plays shockjock radio host Jack Lucas whose candid comments on-air to one caller leads to a restaurant shooting. Jack falls into meltdown, depression and guilt which he can not escape after years not doing anything. On a boozy night out in New York,  a suicidal Jack ends up encountering thugs who think he’s a homeless and want to give him a beat up. Enter Williams’ homeless character Parry who saves the situation.  Jack learns that Parry lost his wife in the shooting tragedy and now feels even more guilt and indebted to Parry. Jack wants to free himself of even more burden.

Parry ( Williams) and Jack (Bridges) in The Fisher King dir. Terry Gilliam

Parry is a definitive character who has outlandish ideas, believing he is the janitor of God and can see fat fairy people. Parry suffers post traumatic stress disorder(PTSD) completing embracing it.We can understand this when Gilliam’s camera allows us to see inside Parry’s visions.

While the pairing of Jack and Parry continues, Jack’s personal relationship with partner Anne is becoming fated because she is doing all the work while Jack is trying to figure what to do with his own misery. He doesn’t know how to get rid of the regret and remorse of comments he made that caused lost lives and at times retreats internally with his depression. There are a few ways that Jack can help Parry also in relationships and he does so learning his own revelations of self at the same time.

Gilliam makes use of camera with low angle shots of New York to heighten a feeling of being lost in a world one wants to escape. The camera is effective best with closeups at the right moments when the script is fading and Gilliam needs to save weak moments by letting the actors elevate the script ever so slightly with their expressions. This comedy drama tries to balance a lot of things on the story’s plate. Sometimes it succeeds, sometimes it doesn’t but both Bridges and Williams’ acting keep the film from a stand still. The film is good even though the plot might seem slightly dim, it knows how to treat depression and PTSD on film in a manner that an audience can instantly see and understand.

Here in New Zealand a health survey(2013) found that 16% of New Zealand adults suffered from a mental illness. That is around 583,000 people. That would include depression, post traumatic stress disorder or even bipolar and anxiety disorders. It is more common than people think and isn’t a crazy illness that sends you to the crazybin but I wouldn’t be surprised that you’ll most likely working with one or two of them in your workplace.


Jeff Bridges as Jack Lucas

Robin Williams as Parry

Mercedes Ruehl as Anne

Amanda Plummer as Lydia


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