If one ever wanted to make a movie about a superstar with a flair for characters and for physical comedy who ends up dying of depression while making the world laugh, there would be no better man to play him than Robbin Williams. And so it came to be, art became life or was it the other way round, and the sad irony of the whole thing would definitely have made Robin Williams himself laugh.
It’s difficult to make laugh, difficult even more to make people laugh so much that they cry, and difficult most to make people cry while they laugh. In that Robin Williams was a master, like Charlie Chaplin, for their best performances, always had a melancholic poignancy to them, lingering long after the laughter had died down.
Think “City Lights” and the last scene where the girl who can see again sees the Tramp finally for who he is. Think “Circus” and the Tramp standing lonely and forlorn, the circus caravan having left and with it everything he has ever loved. Think “Limelight”.
And then think of “Dead Poet’s Society” and “Good Morning Vietnam” and “Jakob the Liar” and the Genie finally becoming free of the lamp in Aladdin. Even his greatest commercial success, Mrs. Doubtfire, which is about as crowd-pleasing a physical comedy as you are likely to get, has a bitter-sweet resolution that elevates it above the mere run-of-the-mill. Be it as a brilliant doctor trying to cure an incurable disease (“Awakenings”) or as a photo-processing clerk for whom pictures are the only windows into happiness that he will ever have (“One Hour Photo”) or a deeply-damaged psychiatrist coping with the loss of his wife and child-abuse (“Goodwill Hunting”) , Williams would bring this deep sadness and empathy to his characters, like few of his contemporaries could.
As a matter of fact, once you go down the list of his films, you are amazed to see how many characters he played that were morbidly lonely. Maybe his skill at playing loners came from something deep inside him, something that was him. Maybe funny people, are by nature, melancholic, their funniness a defense mechanism against the world outside.
For the line between happy and sad is as blurred as that between life and death.
Goodbye Robin Williams.