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Monday, August 11, 2014

I'll Miss You, Robin

As I write this, I've just learned that the great comedian and actor, Robin Williams, has died. It was an effort just to type that. There is something about him, the way that he understood suffering, that has always resonated with me. The funniest people understand it at a different depth.

On the other hand, perhaps the way things have ended, he didn't understand it as well as it appeared. Lord, have mercy!

I only know that I can encapsulate the fondness I feel for him, and my great respect for his human insight, in four performances he gave. My generation reveres Dead Poets' Society, and rightly so. Even if we realize after repeated viewings that the nihilistic Epicureanism on offer doesn't help much. Also, the hope of eternal life is too easily dismissed.

Later, he had a well-regarded supporting role in Good Will Hunting. Suffice to say that I understand Will's wounds better than I'd like, and I wish that someone like Williams' character had been there for me.

It's a trend that comedians--especially crass ones--do "family films" almost as penance when they get older. But when Robin turned dramatic, he didn't do it to make up for things; he did it because there isn't much difference between the bitter laughter of disappointment, and the longing that fuels it. He was teaching us. Sometimes the best teachers fail to teach themselves.

I've never seen a more underrated movie than Hook. Spielberg disavowed the thing, and he's a buffoon. The only performance better than Robin's was Hoffman's, and the film gets better the more you watch it. Some call it sentimental, and that's fine. Some of us have been through enough that earnestness isn't dismissed, as is the fashion today.

What Dreams May Come. The funeral scene. The theology of the film is dodgy, but at least there is theology. It's a deeply human film. Maybe that's the best way to describe Robin Williams: human. I never felt like he was doing something for a buck; he wanted to say something important, and he did, even as he made us laugh.

I have no idea what brought this tragedy about, but I pray for mercy, and I give thanks for my friend, though we never met. I do feel like I knew him through his art, and I don't think he'd mind that.

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