Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On Robin Williams

I had several favorite teachers throughout school, but one of my absolute favorites was Miss Burke, who taught my 11th grade honor's English class. I loved her. She was one of those teachers that can make you relate to under-appreciated teachers from tv/film. So of course it was she who showed us Dead Poet's Society.

I was 17 and had been involved with the drama club since I was 14, which of course made me (in my mind), an expert on all things theatre. I hated when Neil killed himself because I couldn't possibly understand how that was the only answer. Because there are so many characters in this movie, and they all need their stories told, we only got a glimpse into his life; and yes, he was sad and he was shy and doing this play was the only thing he had felt good about in his life so having it taken away was too much. I didn't understand why he didn't just run away and do the play anyway. Why was suicide the only answer for him?

I was MAD about it because I couldn't understand it. I would never be able to understand it. Because I've never been depressed. I've been sad and I've been angry and I've been devastated, but depression is all of those things and more, and while I've said "Oh, I'm so depressed!" I know it's only a temporary thing, or a dramatic thing, not a life debilitating problem. I can't understand what it's like for people who can't get out of the "constant grayness" that I have experienced while sad, but overcome.

It was watching Robin Williams that I first realized that comedic actors can be serious actors, too, although it must have been before I saw DPS, because I remember thinking about this somewhere around 10-12 years old. This of course would only be reinforced over the years by countless other examples. From Robin Williams to Jim Carrey, Jack Black, Amy Poehler -- I have since never been surprised when someone so funny can be the BEST at being not funny. Even my own husband. Chris gets cast in a lot of goofy roles, a lot of over-the-top characters... but the two roles I loved him most in were Shylock in The Merchant of Venice and Titus's brother, Marcus Andronicus, in Titus Andronicus. Parks and Rec is my favorite television show. What is my favorite moment from my favorite TV show? In the smallest park, when Leslie apologizes to Ben for steam-rolling everything and asks him if they can make their relationship happen for real. I could watch that scene 100 times in a row. What all these people have, what makes them so accessible, is heart.

You can't be a comedian without heart. Ok, you CAN, but not a very good one. Not a legendary one. Comedy is based on truth. Comedy can't succeed without truth. You have to make yourself so vulnerable to expose truth, and you have to have something to back it up, which is the heart. And the same goes for "regular" acting. If there's no heart... who even cares?

You could tell Robin Williams was all heart even when he was playing a ridiculous alien on Mork and Mindy.  He is filled with soul and light, as he always was, in every dramatic or comedic role.

It's weird that a lot of people around my age are lamenting this as a loss for "their childhood." He affected my life well past Hook or Aladdin or even Good Will Hunting (and don't even get me started on What Dreams May Come which I could never watch without sobbing uncontrollably anyway, but can now probably never even watch again, period). He was an inspiration to anyone you love in entertainment, as well as being, on all accounts, an insanely kind man. This isn't part of your childhood dying -- it's part of the soul of the world, which is why I think that it's so hard and heartbreaking for everyone.

Most people will not be able to understand what he was going through, why he chose to do what he did, or why reaching out for help was not an answer. Along with the heartbreak, it probably makes you angry, because there MUST have been another way, right? You can't possibly understand it because you've never been there. Which is good. But don't criticize what you can't understand.

I didn't have to know him to feel the generosity he had. He gave it to all of us, in every performance. I am so sad that he felt the way he did.