Damnit, Terry. So close.
This was one of those movies I was actually looking forward to for ages. We missed The Man Who Killed Don Quixote in Cannes (read – were not fancy enough to get into the real showing. Whatever, I don’t need to be on the red carpet anyway I totally do).
That was back in May. Now, in October, I only just managed to catch the last English showing in Vienna. This should give you an idea of how widely promoted this film was (and how much trouble Gilliam has had getting it released due to legal issues). I was dying to see it, and I almost missed the five days it was playing here.
Of course this is still Austria, so you can’t really expect much except an abundance of 300 year old greatest hits albums, coffee and bitching
BUT all this is just a preamble, to give you an idea of how much I was anticipating this. So, while the movie could hardly have held up to my high standards for it, it could still have been a solid film. Which. It isn’t. Well, not really. It’s not terrible.
Let me try this again.
I have a love-dislike relationship with Gilliam. Unlike Aronofsky, I don’t hate him outright with grudging respect for his craft. Gilliam is often sloppier and a lot of his stuff is downright disturbing
looking at you, Tideland
as well as so busy being clever that it can be detrimental to the story. However, he has a light touch and a sense of whimsy and sadness in a lot of his work, something I really appreciate. Not many directors can capture that balance so well.
I feel like these conflicting urges, to be clever versus the desire to tell an interesting and meaningful story, butt heads in Gilliam’s Don Quixote. The first half of the movie does so well, and then it drops off sharply in the second part. More on that in a moment.
The development story is an epic in itself, which can be watched in the documentary Lost in la Mancha and apparently another upcoming feature, He Dreamed of Giants.
The production was plagued by everything from natural disasters to court cases and changes in cast, and dragged on for 25 years, as the charming title card ahead of the movie informs us. I can say with complete emphasis that I am so glad that of all the choices for the protagonist
If you thought Don Quixote was the protagonist I invite you to examine the title again
it was Adam Driver and not, say, Johnny Depp, who got the role. Apart from personal taste
I love you, only reason I still watch Star Wars
Driver is a brilliant actor who somehow brings likeability and vulnerability to a character who is coward and a wanker. He is ill-served by a role which somehow goes from fleshed out to two-dimensional. He is also the only actor who has anything of particular relevance to do. Don Quixote, played charmingly by Jonathan Pryce, does not really grow or change, he remains as consistently ridiculous as his literary inspiration. And it is apparently an inspiration rather than based upon, which I am grateful for, because I do not want to be called out for watching the movie without reading all 1,000 plus pages of the original book.
The female characters are curiously reductive, although this might be in keeping with the fact that they were conceived over 30 years ago, and have not really been updated since then. That is going to be my charitable interpretation of the two female characters in this film, the Damsel and the Whore.
I am going to leave this to better feminists than me, just want to note that I noticed, Gilliam. No. It’s 2018. Do Better.
From here on, there will be mild spoilers – if you really think this is the kind of film where that matters.
During the first half of the film, we are led into the absurdist world of Don Quixote along with Toby. It’s brilliantly set up. Toby is pulled inexorably back into the world of his youth, when he was still a motivated young filmmaker trying to do something new and exciting. Upon returning to the site of his former movie, Toby realises that he has inadvertently destroyed the lives of some people, including the old Don Quixote actor, a shoemaker called Javier. The man, not unlike the literary character, falls entirely into the idea of chivalry and knighthood, and becomes the character. Through a series of contrivances which start out silly, then start making a kind of dream-sense, Toby winds up playing the role of Sancho.
The part of the movie where Toby and Javier/Don Quixote are out having “adventures” is probably the best. It’s when they reunite with Toby’s film crew for the finale, such as it is, that the whole thing falls apart. I read that there was originally supposed to be a time-travel plot, and that would have made a great deal more sense than the weird vision/dreams solution Gilliam had for showing the mix of “real world” and Quixote’s world. I certainly got the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court vibe, but it was only sort of half-hearted due to the dream space, and you spend a large chunk of the second half of the movie wondering what is supposed to be real and what is not. This, for me, ruined some of the more poignant moments, as it took me so long to realise that what happened was real that the emotional impact was gone. Finally, the ending was hugely unsatisfying to me. I actually needed the voice-over to explain it to me, and I honestly could not tell issf we were supposed to be entertained or saddened by the ending. Personally, I found it depressing – was it supposed to be a kind of punishment? A purgatory? And a cheap ending for a promising story. However, I would still recommend the movie, if for no other reason than for its relevance in Gilliam’s filmography. Godspeed getting hold of it, though.