An iconic Bay Area tunnel, commonly known as the Waldo Tunnel or Rainbow Tunnel, will be named after the late actor Robin Williams.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
I started writing this post as an explainer of Robin Williams’ best film lines and how they came to be. But over the course of watching (and re-watching) the clips, something else started to happen. The quotes began to stand for themselves, tell their own mini-narratives, about the man and the characters speaking them. In movies like “Good Will Hunting,” “Moscow on the Hudson,” “Dead Poets Society” and others, these snippets worked on several levels — represented Williams’ talent, reminded us of the pleasure we had watching them and, in a few cases, possibly (but only very possibly) offered some overtones to the real-life Williams.
Here are those lines, with a little context added. There are many more than could be included here. But they show the actor’s range and, perhaps more importantly, the joy he took in exploring it.
“It’s not your fault.” (“Good Will Hunting”) As Matt Damon’s Will grows first annoyed, then touched, by Williams’ Dr. Sean Maguire in Gus Van Sant’s 1997 phenom, Williams keeps repeating “It’s not your fault,” until Damon’s character finally gives in and hugs the therapist. Van Sant then cuts to Williams face, visible over Damon’s shoulder, smiling, warm, the motormouth comedian here willing to let his eyes do the talking.
“I defect.” (“Moscow on the Hudson”) It was unclear, in those early days of 1984, whether Williams could make the transition from his “Mork and Mindy” days to something larger. And yet with those two words — Russian-accented, enjoyably misunderstood by the Bloomingdale’s security guard to whom he says it — all those doubts wash away.
“Gooooooood-byyyyyyye Vietnaaaaam! That’s right, I’m history… I’m outta here. I got the lucky ticket home, baby. Rollin, rollin, rollin’… keep them wagons rollin’, rawhide! Yeah, that’s right… the final Adrian Cronauer broadcast… and this one is brought to you by our friends at the Pentagon. Remember the people who brought you Korea? That’s right, the U.S. Army. If it’s being done correctly, here or abroad, it’s probably not being done by the Army.” (“Good Morning, Vietnam”) One of so many comic monologues — some from the script, many from Williams’ own brilliant mind — that formed the backbone of his career. WE could say more, but passages like this say it all.
“Daddy’s out of focus.” (“Deconstructing Harry”) OK, it was said to him, not about him. And it may not rank on some people’s lists as one of the all-time classic Williams performances. But for its existential brilliance, and the way Williams subtly parried the humor back, this moment from the Woody Allen hit is one of the great ones in his sparkling career.
“Oh, the terrorists? They ran that way. It was a run-by fruiting.” (“Mrs. Doubtfire”) There were so many great lines in the film “(hit by a Guinness truck,” the “sink the sub, hide the weasel” monologue). But really, in both substance and delivery, it doesn’t get better than the run-by fruiting.
“Now in this class you can either call me Mr. Keating, or if you’re slightly more daring, ‘O Captain my Captain.’ ” (“Dead Poets Society”). And of course the line most apt today, from Walt Whitman’s epic poem, by way of “Dead Poets Society.” In the film it’s explained by Williams’ teacher character as being about the poet’s feelings upon Lincoln’s death; in the real world it takes on a much different meaning. Williams says these words in the same film as he utters another classic line, one that also particularly lands today: “Carpe Diem.”