Saturday, August 16, 2014

My favorite Robin Williams roles: a tribute

This week the world lost a great comedian and great human being. Robin Williams had made people laugh for almost 40 years. When I saw a Facebook post that he had died, I thought it was a hoax but when I saw that all the major news networks were reporting the same sad news. It took my breath away. Robin Williams was a great comedian who could pick up on anything and run with it. I have laughed so hard that I was left breathless. While I watched all the tributes that aired, they showed some of his most famous roles on particular Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Genie from Aladdin (1992), I realized that while those were great roles, they weren’t my favorite that he played. My favorites are Sean Maguire (Good Will Hunting, 1997), John Keating (Dead Poets Society, 1989) and Adrian Croanuer (Good Morning Vietnam, 1987).

Good Will Hunting, a story about a mathematical genius discovered as a janitor at M.I.T. is counseled by Sean Maguire, a man with deep pain himself. Sean’s speech illustrating how Will truly lacks knowledge about the world is my favorite in the entire movie. It’s too long to quote but the essence is there’s a difference between book smart and knowledge of the real experience. My favorite line is when Sean says “You don't know about real loss, 'cause it only occurs when you've loved something more than you love yourself. And I doubt you've ever dared to love anybody that much.” I love that Sean teaches Will that life will have bad times but as he tells it “You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.” I love this illustration because when I am going through rough times, I see all the good things in my life and I am able to push through. Mr. Williams played Sean with such vulnerability and passionate that you root for both him and Will.

Dead Poets Society is a story of a great teacher who inspires his students to seize the day and become greater than they ever thought they could be. This movie combines two of my loves: poetry and inspirational teachers. The poem at the center of the movie is “O Captain, My Captain!” by Walt Whitman (1865). Mr. Keating is the type of teacher who values education and not just school education but education in which someone learns and broadens their minds. Someone who learns and tries new things. Someone who says “I will” because someone else said “You can’t.” I see that passionate teaching in Mr. Williams’ performance. One of my favorite quotes is when Mr. Keating tells his students, “There’s a time for daring and there’s a time for caution, and a wise man understands which is called for.” This lesson is about how and when to challenge a system you deem unfair. It’s a quote that can be applied to most situations: when to act and when to wait. The students begin to realize that they don’t have to follow the paths that their parents had planned for them, that they are the masters of their own destinies. They begin to buck the system and the school’s code of “tradition, honor, discipline and excellence.” If you have never seen this movie, I highly recommend it.

I was first introduced to Good Morning, Vietnam in a high school history class. While it is a comedy, it has its dramatic moments portraying an unpopular war. Adrian Croanuer is a DJ for the Armed Forces Radio Service. One line that never fails to make me laugh is when Adrian first starts his radio show: “Goooooooood morning, Vietnam! Its 0600 hours. What does the “O” stand for? O my God, it’s early!” While Adrian is popular with the troops, he begins to annoy a couple of officers who believe that his brand of comedy and music has no place in the Armed Forces. Adrian soon learns the harsh reality of fighting in Vietnam when the enemy could be the man standing beside you. Good Morning, Vietnam was the perfect movie for Mr. Williams’ fast paced, quick witted humor while portraying a dark and difficult time in our history.

Robin Williams had so many great roles that I could probably write a book about them all. I have only highlighted a few of my top favorite. He will be forever in my heart and memories as the man of many voices who brought so much joy and laughter to others but could not overcome the darkness inside his own mind. I pray that his family finds peace in knowing that he is greatly beloved by millions and he will remain among the greats. He will be forever the Genie, Sean Maguire, Mr. Keating, Mrs. Doubtfire and the many characters he brought to life as only he could. It deeply saddens me that people do not understand how someone like him could be depressed. Depression, like cancer, can strike the rich and famous. It can strike the poor and downtrodden. It can strike anyone and at any time. It is incredibly heartbreaking that in the depth of his despair, he only saw one way. I pray that his life and legacy will lead to better understanding and education about depression that we do not have another sad ending like his.

Rest in Peace Robin Williams 1951-2014