Mentally healthy conversations - the solution from film

Have you seen The Fisher King? A great film. In my view it provides the solution to a worldwide problem for schools, universities and workplaces.

This is not just a menial problem. It’s a problem of significant proportions. So large, in fact, that I refer to it as “the greatest organisational failure of the present day”. And that is — the failure to manage the both the stigma in the language attached to mental health, and the failure to provide support to employees with mental health.

In The Fisher King, Robin Williams plays the lead role of Parry. Parry is a very odd character. A mad tramp. Sleeping rough. Constantly having visions of a red knight on horseback — breathing fire. Parry is the sort of character you wouldn’t want contact with. Because he’s . . . well . . . a nutter.

But the film doesn’t start with Parry. It starts with Jack played by Jeff Bridges. A full-of-himself, know-it-all radio DJ. Jack knows all the answers. He’s the alpha male. Top of the tree. The boss.

The film starts with Jack on his Radio Programme taking calls from the public. The initial dialogue is incredibly clever. You don’t realise it at the time, but it’s effectively the whole film condensed into one minute.

This is the dialogue between Jack and a lady caller.

The Lady says: Hi. This is about my husband. Well he drives me crazy. I’ll be talking. And he’ll never let me finish a sentence. He’s always . . .

Jack: He’s always finishing your thoughts. That’s awful.

Lady: It absolutely drives . . .

Jack: It drives you crazy doesn’t it? He’s a scoundrel.

Lady: Jack. You’ve hit the . . .

Jack: Hit the nail on the head. Yeah, somebody ought to hit you on the head.”

Jack then speaks, with equal insensitivity to another caller, Edwin. Jack speaks. He doesn’t listen — because Jack has all the answers. He doesn’t need to know what Edwin wants. Jack thinks he already knows the answers to Edwin’s problems. And as a result of what Jack says to him Edwin then goes off and kills seven people in a restaurant, before turning the gun on himself.

The film picks up the story three years later when Jack is a drunk and suicidal. After a night out drinking he ends up tying two bricks to his feet and stands on the edge of a river. Before being able to throw himself in, two thugs come and beat him up until Parry — our insane tramp and lead character — turns up. Parry acts out being a knight on horseback and both comically and with demonstrable madness, saves Jack from the thugs.

Parry, clearly insane; a crazy, mad, idiot, tells Jack that the little people — that only he can see — they say that Jack is “The One” who can help him find “The Holy Grail”.

We then learn that Parry became his mad, crazy, insane self after Edwin — driven by Jack’s insensitive remarks three years earlier — blew Parry’s wife’s brains out in that restaurant.

Up to that point Parry had been married, with a job as a lecturer, living a normal life. But after that Parry didn’t speak for a year, he ended up in a mental institution before living on the streets. He went mad. He was nuts.

As the film moves on we see the full horror of Parry’s reality. We discover that the fire breathed by the red knight is not the imaginings of a mad-man, but Parry’s flashback to Edwin’s gun firing in the restaurant. Parry portrays all the characteristics of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — recalling the horrific death of his wife in that restaurant, at the hands of Edwin, driven by Jack’s insensitive remarks.

And the red knight’s elaborate bright red headwear is not an hallucination brought on by Parry’s insanity, but is a flashback to when his wife got her brains blown out, all over the wall and all over Parry’s face.

That’s Parry’s flashback. The one that put him in a straight-jacket and eventually on the streets.

You’ll remember that Parry sees Jack as The One that can help him find the Holy Grail.

Jack, of course, just sees Parry as nuts. But given that he feels somewhat responsible for Parry’s situation he tries to help.

First, he offers Parry money.

Then Jack tries giving advice to Parry — telling him to not risk getting in trouble by stealing a silver cup th