“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
– Dead Poets Society
The news of the tragic death of Robin Williams have hit us all unexpectedly and, frankly, we are still looking for the best words to express our feelings. How to pay tribute to such a legend, such a great talent who made us laugh and cry, inspired and tought us in so many ways?
Instead of writing more, here are the his roles that have marked our lives: Genie, both reckless and gentle; the wonderful Mrs Euphegenia Doubtfire; the unforgettable “carpe diem” of John Keating; Andrew the Robot; and one of Williams’ less known roles, Chris of What Dreams May Come. Yet there are many many more. I think Mr Williams would have enjoyed it if we continued watching his films and remembering him with laughter rather than tears. So this is what I propose we should do: laugh, remembering the numerous gloriously funny moments of his career, rather than lament the loss of such a talent.
Cheers to you, Mr Williams. Rest in peace.
I may be of that generation of people who fiercely defend their love of YA fantasy because of more recent novels and films, but it was the one-of-a-kind Genie who was my first magic idol – and I am willing to bet that is true for most people my age. Back then, I was too young to understand the notion of voice acting. I simply wanted a friend like him and I am not ashamed to admit that I spent many an afternoon rubbing the lamps in our living room trying to find him. Animation often runs the risk of losing this whimsical joy in its viewers as they get older, but Aladdin still enthralled me a week ago when I rewatched it for the umpteenth time with my friends. A large part of that came down to Robin Williams. The Genie is a loveable character, with more wit and quirkiness than anything Disney has come up with since, and it is quite easy to see that most of that is down to how Williams voiced him. Recent years have seen repeated calls for Andy Serkis to get recognised for his motion capture work; I still think it is criminal Williams did not get more professional credit and accolades for his work here. Listen back to “Friend like Me”, right down to the beeping neon sign at the end, or watch the sequence where he saved Al’s behind from drowning, and then try convincing me that was not a comedic genius at work. The biggest strength of the Genie, of course, was his humanity. In a film with four actual humans, a sentient carpet and a bunch of nutty animals, the character with the worst case of career karma (phenomenal cosmic power, itty bitty living space) still had the most endearing arc. The fact that this part was literally written for him goes to show exactly how important Williams was to the success of the film. Goodbye Genie, hope you’ve found some peace.
– Ibtisam Ahmed
The Bicentennial Man
Andrew: “I try to make sense of things. Which is why, I guess, I believe in destiny. There must be a reason that I am as I am. There must be.”
Called ‘too sappy’ by the critics for its time, The Bicentennial Man is about an android called Andrew (Robin Williams) who is purchased by the Martin family. Little did they know that he is not like the others; he has in fact an incredible capacity to learn to do everything, even to feel. This film is a must-see that explores themes such as the purpose of life, mortality, love and what it means to be human.
Rediscovering this movie after so many years was an incredible experience. This is one of my dearest childhood memories: like every child I was afraid of death and being left alone. Andrew seemed to represent all my fears and hopes and by the hundredth time I saw this movie I was convinced that one day all the people I love would be able to live forever thanks to science. Only now that I see the major illusion I can see the work of Robin Williams which is incredible. A smile, a small sparkle in his eyes, his performance is subtle and ‘robotic’ but it is amazing to actually have the feeling to be looking at a piece of metal and finding a human soul. Take time to watch this again, it is really heartbreaking.
– Patrick Sambiasi
Dead Poets Society
O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done, the ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won.
I find it very hard to write about what the character of John Keatings means to me. Williams’ inspirational turn as an English teacher was one of the first characters who taught me how to live a full life, and it breaks my heart to have to write this as a result of the actor’s passing. When I watched Dead Poets Society, it opened up a lot of new experiences for me. On a cinematic level, it was the first time I had seen a comedian do a serious role so convincingly. It might not have been his first dramatic role, or his last, but it was the first time I saw versatility on screen. Since then, I have seen and appreciated the likes of Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls, but this remains a watershed moment in my time as a film-lover. On a human level, Williams helped shape my growth. I do not mean this as an exaggeration thrown out to make this tribute seem emotional; I sincerely count Robin Williams’ performance here as a key influence on my life. The school system I grew up with was one that cherished grades more than anything else, from a very young age. Faculty members were only concerned with teaching us the answers, instead of letting us figuring them out ourselves. My own English teacher – who I was convinced inspired Keatings before later realising she probably took inspiration from him – was the one exception to this, but the system was too entrenched for us to break. While I confess that I never had the courage to do what Keatings inspired his students to do, I am still grateful to him for helping me become who I am today. Because of Robin Williams’ character, I wake up every morning wanting to seize the day, even as I sometimes face the same demons that he had to in real life. To mention that this was largely down to how sincere he was in the role seems redundant. I only wish that there was some way for him to know what he did for a scared little boy halfway around the world. O captain. My captain.
– Ibtisam Ahmed
It’s odd to consider that one of Robin Williams’ most iconic performances was mostly delivered from behind Oscar-winning prosthetics, which rendered the actor himself almost completely unrecognisable. Based on the lesser-known Anne Fine novel, Mrs Doubtfire centres on Williams’ Daniel Hillard: devoted father, immature husband, and top-notch voice actor. When his marriage to Sally Field’s Miranda finally buckles after one argument too many, Daniel strives to stay close to his beloved children by disguising himself as the housekeeper of Miranda’s dreams: supernanny Euphegenia Doubtfire.
Over the past two decades, it seems that Mrs Doubtfire has only grown in stature, with its relatively mixed critical reception increasingly submerged beneath widespread adoration from the viewing public. Its praise is highly deserved, too: the smart, sharp script from Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon is fast and furious when it comes to dishing out hilarity. The warmth and wit of Daniel’s scenario is still funny 21 years on, with repeat viewings still offering rewards for those well-versed with the film.
Successfully burying adult humour into family fare is skilful in of itself, but where Mrs Doubtfire truly goes above and beyond is the way in which it communicates with viewers of all ages, and without sprinkling sugar over the whole confection. The film takes a remarkably mature and sensitive approach to the thorny topic of divorce and its fallout, and avoids insulting its audience by forging unreasonable closures. Instead of descending into syrupy equilibriums, it closes on a delicate note of wisdom, delivered with grace by Williams in one of many scenes which captures the actor at his most heartfelt.
As with so many other vehicles which feature Williams in key roles, Mrs Doubtfire – for all its inspired quirks and fanciful premise – is profoundly honest. Beyond the run-by fruitings and hot dog impressions, it is the soul of the film which keeps audiences returning to it; a soul which gleams through every wrinkle and gesture of Williams’ towering central performance. In the immediate wake of the actor’s tragic passing, the future of the film’s sequel is in serious doubt. As such, we may never see Euphegenia again, but she – and Robin Williams himself – will always be remembered in the hearts of families everywhere. “Bye-bye.”
– Michael Perry
What Dreams May Come
It is difficult to talk about the effect that What Dreams May Come has had upon my life; it has become one of those films that are so firmly fixed in your mind that it is almost impossible to trace the ideas that have sprung directly from it. I remember the surprise I felt when I saw Williams, whom I had previously seen in comedies like the glorious Mrs Doubtfire. Here Williams played a man travelling through Heaven, guided by Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Albert; learning that his surroundings immediately respond to his imagination, Williams’ Chris splashes colours, slowly moving towards reconciliation with the afterlife.
However, one of the most brilliant scenes in the film is Chris’ encounter with his wife Annie (Annabella Scriorra), who, being unable to cope with his death, has comitted suicide and is now suffering in Hell, in a nightmare she has created for herself. Williams’ talent shines bright in their re-union, him trying to persuade her to survive, to remember, to love. I remember being simply fascinated by his capabilities to both make me laugh and cry. And What Dreams May Come served as one of the films that made me think deeply about loss, life, sacrifice and, most importantly, love.
But perhaps this was one of the most beautiful aspects of Robin Williams’ genius – behind every joke there was an undertone of seriousness, just enough to make one think yet not weighing one down with the burden of everyday loss. This was the burden of the clown, always smiling and making others laugh. When asked in 2001 what he thinks Heaven is like, Williams said: “If Heaven exists, to know that there’s laughter. That would be a good thing. Just to hear God go, “Two Jews walk into a bar”…”
This is not the Heaven of What Dreams May Come, but, hopefully, there’s laughter. Rest in peace.
– Paulina Drėgvaitė