Ambiguity in The Fisher King: From Tennyson’s Holy Grail to Gilliam’s Film

January 13, 2022 by Essay Writer

After one has read The Holy Grail by Alfred Lord Tennyson and watched the movie The Fisher King directed by Terry Gilliam, the question about the identity of the Fisher King in the movie naturally arises. In The Holy Grail, the Fisher King is described as a wounded man who is the last keeper of the Holy Grail. The King’s knight or fool retrieves the Holy Grail for him. For viewers of the movie, it is not always clear who is the Fisher King is being portrayed by and who is playing the knight. So, the movie puts its own take on the story and lets the viewer decide which character is which.

Both Parry and Jack play the knight and the Fisher King interchangeably throughout the movie. Parry tells Jack the story of the Holy Grail and the Fisher King. Jack has never heard of this and becomes interested when Parry tells him about it. He says that “the keeper of the Holy Grail may heal the hearts of men” (Gilliam). Both men want the Holy Grail during different parts of the movie. Parry desires the Holy Grail because his heart is completely broken after witnessing his wife being shot in the head at dinner. Jack looks for the Holy Grail because he is full of himself and keeps pushing the ones he loves the most away from him. In the story the Holy Grail, the knight Galahad, says “If I lose myself, I save myself” (Tennyson 206). This quote describes Jack because he had to lose himself as in return to the bad person he use to be. This then helped him realized he was being an awful person and change his ways, which saved himself. In the end, Jack claims the Holy Grail out of love and not because of his selfish ways. He heals Parry, but also frees himself from his guilt. At the beginning of the movie, Jack renders the Fisher King, a wealthy, high power man who runs a successful radio show. The knight, illustrated by Parry, the man whose wife was killed because of Jack’s radio show. When the two meet each other, Jack feels superior to Parry like a king looking down on his fool. But Parry changes Jack’s life after Jack realizes how Parry connects to him. Jack begins to feel guilty about causing Parry’s wife’s death. Jack is still selfish though with his knowledge about Parry. He tries to make up for what happened by giving Parry money, Jack said, “I wish there was some way I could just pay the fine and go home” (Gilliam). This shows Jack’s role as the Fisher King as someone who thinks wealth and power is the solution to everything.

Parry on the other hand represents the knight at the beginning of the movie. He even says, “I’m a knight on a special quest. And I need help” (Gilliam). The help he needs involves Jack’s guidance. Parry feels he must find the Holy Grail in order to heal his heart after his tragedy. Parry and Jack begin to switch roles when Parry insists that Jack is the chosen knight sent to retrieve the Holy Grail for him. Jack’s character becomes nicer and more caring due to Parry’s insane character. These two character’s balance each other out. Parry only sees the good and Jack and thinks he is sent from God to help him, “You’re a real honest to goodness good guy” (Gilliam). Parry becomes the Fisher King when Jack goes to his “home” and sees the books about the Holy Grail. Parry tells Jack he is the one, the knight, he has been waiting for to get the Holy Grail. Jack thinks Parry is extremely crazy but feels bad for him because he takes the blame for Parry becoming crazy. Jack does not desire to go get the Holy Grail because he does not want it and does not feel like he needs it. When Parry gets beat up and goes into a coma, Jack goes back to his ways of being a jerk because his king (Parry) is wounded. He forgets about Parry completely since he is unconscious. But Jack soon realizes that he has changed back to his selfish ways and goes to find the Holy Grail not only for Parry but for himself. Jack even admits to his nasty personality, “I’m self-centered, I’m weak” (Gilliam). Jack feels punished for turning back into a mean, power craving jerk, “Ever get the feeling you’re being punished for your sins?”. While Jack searches for the Holy Grail, his personality changes again, he retrieves the Holy Grail not only for himself to become a better person but for Parry in hope that he will wake up from his coma.

The movie The Fisher King delves into the story of the Holy Grail, making it a challenging modern-day adventure; in fact, the movie works under the idea that both Parry and Jack play the role of the Fisher King and the Knight. The Holy Grail appeals to both men for different reasons. Jack wants the Holy Grail to help him change his outlook on life and be a better person. Parry wants the Holy Grail to help mend his broken heart and to move on in life. The movie tied the story of the Holy Grail by Tennyson into its plot, making it very interesting for viewers to watch and think what they wanted based on their own imagination.

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