I first became aware of Robin Williams when my parents took me to see “Hook” at the age of six. I adored the film, watching it over and over again on video. Williams plays Peter Banning, an adult Peter Pan. Bogged down by the pressures of being a parent and a professional, he has no recollection of his time in Neverland. During a pivotal scene, the Lost Boys try to reinvigorate his memory. One boy pokes and prods at Banning’s face until he finds Pan. “Oh, there you are, Peter!”
There’s movie magic in that scene, as there often was when Robin Williams was on screen. Yes, Dean Cundey’s golden hour lighting is evocative. And yes, John Williams’ score is beautiful. But it’s all on Robin Williams’ face. Through that dour façade, we capture brief glimpses of mischief and youth. For me, Robin Williams will always be the man caught between childhood and adulthood.
Most known for his comedy, Williams certainly gave us reason to look closer. Perhaps a gloomy comparison, but he’s like the inverse of Philip Seymour Hoffman. My kneejerk reaction to Hoffman’s death was to recount his various dramatic roles. I momentarily forgot how funny he could be. Robin Williams spent so much time making us laugh, and he was so good at it, that it’s easy to forget “The Fisher King,” “Good Will Hunting,” or “Dead Poets Society.” Or go a step further and look at his villainous work in “Insomnia” and “One Hour Photo.” Those characters are so lacking his manic energy, so certain that they’re of sound mind, that they’re doubly frightening.
A year after “Hook,” there was “Aladdin.” The next year, “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Robin Williams became the first entertainer I ever looked forward to seeing on screen. He may have solidified for me, at an early age, that movies are stories unspooled, and that their creators’ lives extend beyond that canvas.
I’ve spent the last couple days laughing harder than I have in months, as I revisit clips from his movies and stand-up routines. Thanks for the laughter and tears, Robin.