Sunday, August 17, 2014

"He lost his ability to love or be loved"

Last night I took the risk of re-watching Terry Gilliam's 1991 movie The Fisher King, which starred Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges. Williams plays "Parry," a man, a former professor, rendered mentally unstable by the traumatic event of his wife's brutal murder, which happened right before his eyes and was precipitated, not carried out by, but likely caused by Jeff Bridges' character, Jack, a Howard Stern-like shock-jock. It is an amazing movie. I thought so back when I first watched it. I saw it at the cinema and, a few years later, watched it again on videotape. It is a modern take on the quest for the Holy Grail and a tremendously moving one at that.

In a pivotal scene, Parry takes Jack to Central Park at night to engage in what he calls "cloud busting." According to Parry "cloud busting," which is laying on your back and staring at the night sky, is best done nude. So, Parry takes of his clothes and dances about, which makes Jack uncomfortable. Jack, who is broken by what happened and who realizes Parry is a victim of his shock-jocking, but is no less self-absorbed, starts to leave, but just can't. Remaining clothed, Jack lies next to the nude Parry as they contemplate the full moon. It is then that Parry tells the story of the Fisher King:
Then let's begin with the story itself.

It's a story of the Grail myth...And although there are several variations, my favorite begins with the Fisher King as a young boy... who had to spend a night alone in the forest to prove his courage... and during that night, he is visited by a sacred vision. Out of the fire, appears the Holy Grail - God's highest symbol of divine grace. And a voice says to the boy, "You shall be the guardian of the Grail, that it may heal the hearts of men"...But the boy was overcome ...Innocent and foolish, he was blinded by greater visions - a life ahead filled with beauty and glory, hope and power...Tears filled his eyes as he sensed his own... invincibility. A boy's tears of naive wonder and inspiration. and in this state of...radical amazement...he felt for a brief moment, not like a boy, but like God... (Jack listens intently) ...And so he reached into the fire to take the Grail. And the Grail vanished. And the boy hands were left caught in the flames...leaving him wounded and ashamed at what his recklessness had lost him. When he became King, he was determined to reclaim his destiny and find the Grail... But with each year that passed, with each campaign he fought, the Grail remained lost, and this wound he suffered in the fire grew worse... He became a bitter man. Life for him lost it's reason. With each disappointment, with each betrayal... with each loss ... this wound would grow... Soon the land began to spoil from neglect and his people starved...Until finally, the King lost all faith in God's existence and in man's value...He lost his ability to love or be loved And he was so sick with experience... that he started to die. As the years went on, his bravest knights would search for the Grail that would heal their King and make them the most respected and valued men in the land, but to no avail.

Pretty soon, finding the Grail became a ruthless struggle between ambitious men vying for the King's power, which only confirmed the King's worst suspicions of man, causing his wound to grow. His only hope, he thought, was death. Then one day, a fool was brought in to the King to cheer him. He was a simple-minded man... not particularly skilled...or admired... He tells the King some jokes...sing him some songs, but the King feels even worse...Finally, the fool says, "What is it that hurts you so much? How can I help?"...And the King says, "I need a sip of water to cool my throat"...So, the fool takes a cup from the bedstand, fills it with water and hands it to the King...Suddenly, the King feels a lot better. And when he looks to his hands, he sees that it was the Holy Grail the fool handed ordinary cup that had been beside his bed all along...And the King asks, "How can this be? could you find what all my knights and wisest men could not find"? And the fool answers, "I don't know. I only knew you were thirsty."... And for the first time since he was a boy, the King felt more than a man - not because he was touched by God's glory...but rather, by the compassion of a fool
Later in the movie, Parry and Jack go cloud busting again, but Jack, too, does it in the nude.

I love Michael Card's song "God's Own Fool," the chorus of which goes as follows:
"So we follow God's own Fool
For only the foolish can tell
Believe the unbelievable, come be a fool as well."

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