If you don't know that Terry Gilliam is my favorite film-maker of all time, then you don't know me. We are lucky, fellow humans. We have been blessed with creative genius the likes of which will leave a hole in the world when the man transitions through the veil of death. And his latest installment, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, is a capstone to his silver screen legacy.
First, if you think you don't know who Gilliam is, you should recognize him as the the one American from the cherished Monty Python group. All of those wacky animations? Those are his creations! He directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail, not only his first feature-length film, but also most well-known as one of the funniest movies of all time. After that he went on to create such original and innovative works as Time Bandits, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Fisher King, Twelve Monkeys, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, and (my number one favorite film of all time) Brazil. His films are unconventional (to say the least) and often mix comedy and tragedy in a perfect blend of mystical surrealism that rarely leave any sort of middle ground with viewers. You either love Gilliam's work or hate him. Hollywood and American audiences have had such a tough time accepting his mode of film-making, so Gilliam has taken refuge in the European film market for several decades now, most notably for slaving away at his long-awaited magnum opus: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.
This movie's creation is that of film legend. Thirty years in the making, Gilliam has suffered through numerous attempts of trying to bring his vision of Cervantes' famous delusional character to life. Tragedy after tragedy struck his endeavor, the most notorious of which can be explored in the documentary Lost in La Mancha. Soon, Gilliam started being compared to Quixote himself, a delusional lunatic chasing an impossible dream and mistaking it for reality. Many Gilliam fans had lost hope the film would ever come to light. And then, a couple of years ago, word broke that production finally wrapped and the movie would begin its tour throughout various film festivals . . . in Europe (insert crying emoji here). There have been no American viewings available for the past year until, finally, about 800 theaters across the U.S. showed the film for one showing only, for one night: last Wednesday, April 10th, 2019.
Adam Driver plays Toby, a hotshot director shooting a commercial in the Spanish countryside when he realizes he is not far from a village where he created a student film 10 years previous. Curious, he visits the hamlet only to discover the legacy of his film not only disrupted, but in some cases destroyed the lives of the villagers after he left. He runs into an old shoemaker who believes himself to be the enigmatic don Quixote (played by Jonathan Price) who mistakes Toby for his squire Soncho Panza and from there the adventure ensues into a wild and frenetic roller-coaster ride of action, romance, and dreamscrapes. Let me just say first off that I walked into the theater with trepidation. I was worried that through years of minimized funding and production faux pas that Gilliam might have had to sacrifice his original vision. I knew going in that the script changed so much from the original, I was worried the story was comprised just so that Gilliam could get it made, rather than getting it done the way he wanted it.
I shouldn't have worried.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is truly Terry Gilliam's grand vision. Not only was he able to tell the story he wanted to tell, but ended up being able to pull audiences along with him through the journey he has made in bringing Quixote to life. Toby and Quixote are both driven by a gripping madness in pursuit of their lofty goals. For Quixote it is chivalry and romance. For Toby, redemption. Both of these characters and their ambitions get lost in the surreal unreality of their own imaginations compounded by the parasitic influences of the "real" world (the real monsters of this flick). Gilliam is not subtle here. His heavy-handed critique of studio executives, investors, producers, and the other high-level engineers of Hollywood and the entertainment industry almost seems a bit much if not for the fact of the realities which Gilliam has had to live through in order to, like Quixote, make his own dreams come true. This is Gilliam's story. I know I just compared him to Quixote, but Gilliam likens himself more to being like Soncho, the squire who ushers Quixote along, despite whatever windmills may knock him off his horse. The film is Quixote, the film is the dream.
I am still digesting this film two days after seeing it. Bottom-line, it is beautiful. The locations are superb. Driver and Price are amazing together, both of them stretching themselves to extremes, high and lows, in a seamless effort which garners award-winning respect. Nicola Pecorini's cinematography is, as usual, fantastic. Not only does Gilliam push the envelope in terms of narrative (the amazing script co-written by Tony Grisoni) but the film still captures a romantic beauty that can only be experienced in classic movies.
Although The Man Who Killed Don Quixote still does not surpass Brazil as my all-time favorite Gilliam movie, it certainly rates up there. After decades of travails, it is indeed a perfect wrap-up of the Quixote-esque journey it took to complete it. If Gilliam never makes another film, it is a worthy end to a magnificent career, an impeccable encapsulation of everything Gilliam was, is, and will ever be. For those who may not understand Gilliam's film, it is most likely because they just do not understand Gilliam. He is a man ahead of his time. Like Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick, he is a diamond, a rare visionary which nobody will ever be able to replicate or replace. He leaves audiences bewildered, and that's exactly the magic he hopes to spin. Why walk away from a movie content and complacent? Why not walk away with something that sticks with you? Something worth talking about, debating over, and that invades your dreams when you go to bed . . . this is the Gilliam/Quixote legacy. Thank the gods I finally got to see and enjoy this masterpiece decades in the making! Because of maestro Gilliam, I'm not sure what is dream and what is reality anymore . . .
My rating for this film is, obviously:
Terry Gilliam, the myth, on set.