Full of Heart and Soul;
Don Quixote is the perfect character for Terry Gilliam to tackle, considering how impressively driven the two are when it comes to their respective missions. Terry doesn’t want to churn out the same old material from the Hollywood machine, which can easily be seen as the wickedness that Don fights against. They both act bravely and out of love and with endless determination. Quixote pursued his ideal, the golden-haired Dulcinea, no matter the cost. Gilliam has chased this film for thirty years, and his quest is frighteningly akin to Quixote’s. Consider the lyrics to Dulcinea by ISIS (one of my favorite bands of all time):
He is not mad
His thought is clearer than the saner man
For in her he saw beauty
Overflowing through the tattered clothes
She was his queen
She is a queen
In dreams he wanders the dark, in search of her
Gilliam saw the beauty in this project from day one, even if nobody else did. He refused to let go of it, but rather let it consume him. In the film, we see a poor shoemaker in a random Spanish village picked to play the part of Don Quixote for a student film, and more than ten years later the part has consumed him. Any trace of his former self is gone, and only Don Quixote remains, even if he is the only one who sees it this way. He goes about his quests with the same childish glee that Gilliam employs when making a film. Nobody blends fantasy with reality like Gilliam has done since the 1960s, and Quixote does much the same in his own life, while taking others along for his chaotic ride. There is a beauty to the obsession and we are better off for its existence.
In fact, Gilliam can be compared to both of the main characters in the story. Film director Toby starts the story as a young student full of life and ideas, single-minded in his vision. It isn’t until he ages and has seen the ugliness of the machine at work that a bit of cynicism takes hold and he has to fight against it to allow that pure creativity to shine through again. Toby is beaten down by the process, especially when the creative work must take a back seat to landing an important account, and only when he fully loses himself in the madness can be take back control. And he does, in glorious fashion, with what is Gilliam’s best film since Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. As an audience member, you too can identify with Toby’s struggle. At first the line in the sand seems very clear, but once things get incomprehensibly muddled, discerning fact from fiction becomes harder and harder, as the incredible locations, wild characters and insane situations swallow you up like Jonah inside the whale, as you can only hope to come out the other side unscathed. Depending on your perspective, this film can make all the sense in the world, absolutely none at all or both at the same time, and that’s the precise beauty of it.
Placing the camera at harsh angles, sweeping shots that create a dizzying effect and close-ups with wide angle lenses are all used and are trademarks of Gilliam’s films. These functions are used more heavily as the film goes on, placing the audience directly in the shoes of our leads. What seems relatively easy to grasp in the beginning will leave you scratching your head in the end, giving the audience something truly meaty to chew on. While not on par with the more frantic editors of our time (looking at you, Boyle), Terry Gilliam knows how to use restraint when it comes to this. It is not an all out blitz attack on the senses, but one that is calm and coordinated. The audience is left to breathe when necessary, which is a remarkable quality of this film.
Jonathan Pryce has a magnificent time playing the titular Don Quixote, hamming it up in all the necessary ways. He makes the audience believe as much as he does. Adam Driver turns in a rock solid performance, showing plenty of range within his character. Credit part of this to the writing, but Driver certainly proved the chops to pull it off. The way these characters arc intersected was wonderful. They both rode the same roller coaster, but in reverse ways. Seeing them concurrently spiral, but in different directions was a treat.
It’s wonderful that, after so long trying to get this film off the ground, it is fully allowed to truly soar. It was great to see this in the theater for it’s one and only showing (thanks, Fathom!) and hopefully in time it finds the kind of audience who will appreciate all that it has to offer.
Have you seen The Man Who Killed Don Quixote? What did you think? Drop a comment below and head over to our Facebook Community for much more discussion!