I am a marathon watcher of films on planes: Foreign, independent, blockbuster — bring it on. The flight from London to New York City on Monday, August 11th was no different. Completely entranced in movie number four of the trip, I studied every part of Robin Williams’ contorted, angry, simply maddened self, splayed across the mini screen of the seat in front of me, as he played the role of an old school Brooklyn lawyer Henry Altmann. The film was The Angriest Man in Brooklyn; his character’s unbearable emotions and inability to deal with reality, sending him to the precipice of the Brooklyn Bridge and right off it. In a particular macabre, even a believable New York turn of events…the jump off the bridge didn’t kill him.
I kept staring at his face…at Robin Williams’ face…wondering, “Was this artist so very good at capturing the character of the desperate man because he too was so very desperate, so very often?” There is a look in the eyes of those who want to leave this world that, unfortunately, I have seen before. His eyes startled me. Was he really acting, or was he revealing something already so clearly in the secret chambers of his brilliant mind?
The maelstrom of the New York captured in the film was crushing the soul out of a man — a character. This movie wasn’t so different from real life in the City on a rotten day. Bad traffic, bad service, bad karma, middle age, the melting pot of the City’s pain — triggers had wiped the humanity right out of him and a brain clot had completely driven him to madness. With an alleged 90 minutes to live, he eventually revives a buried New York spirit of community, family, and opportunity, and a passion for music and dance. Still crazy-as-a-bed-bug-victim-in-rush-hour-on-the-N-train-in-August, his soul is allowed to have a moment to recover what’s worth living for: The rain on the Brooklyn Bridge in the embrace of a young boy, his son, who he teaches to waltz as the sheets of nature’s tears hail down across the East River.
A few hours later while I waited for my luggage, I thought about the movie; Robin Williams’ character dancing with his son on the Brooklyn Bridge; a son who decided to be a ballroom dancer in a Williamsburg studio and not a lawyer. I thought about those eyes…that jump farewell. I saw an angry man forgive his son for his choices and forgive himself for the artist’s life he had, in fact, inspired as a father.
I arrived in my Manhattan apartment, kissed loved ones, settled in. I opened my phone. Robin Williams had died. This wasn’t a film, this wasn’t art. This was real. He had taken his life. He had left us that very same day, even in the same hours I was watching the movie. Crazy had won this round. She had devoured her young. He really had died. He had left us with so much to consider as New Yorkers, as human beings.
The Angriest Man in Brooklyn. I’d never heard anyone talk about it. I’d never seen it.
Released in 2014, it is the last film released before Robin William’s death and definitely a film to see; to hold onto your humanity and remember that art is everywhere, you just have to pay attention.