You can’t talk about Terry Gilliam‘s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote without talking about his 30 year struggle to get the damn thing made. The epically delayed movie experienced wrecked sets, collapsed funding and colossal legal acrimony. Such unbelievable bad luck that the making of the film spawned its own documentary Lost in La Mancha by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe. Now the thing is finally made, and you know what? It is just as epic as the story of its making.
Is it Gilliam‘s masterpiece? No. To be honest, 12 Monkeys and Brazil were better but there is something sweet and self-reflective in the film. A love letter to the magical quality of cinema itself. To Terry Gilliam’s ability to shun the formulaic fashion in which many films, even many fantasy films, are made these days.
Shockingly, it’s not even Don Quixote himself whom Gilliam seems to relate to, but his long-suffering sidekick Sancho. One thing first: Don Quixote and Sancho are more metaphorical film characters, or at least the question of whether they are metaphorical of literal is left up in the air. Rather Sancho comes in the form of Toby (Adam Driver, drool-worthy as always), a once wide-eyed and optimistic filmmaker who cast a kindly old shoemaker (Jonathan Pryce) in the role of Don Quixote in his student film project.
Years later, a now jaded and corrupt Toby returns to the Spanish village where the film once took place, only to find that the shoemaker has either lost his mind or gained a new lease on life: He now believes that he is the real Don Quixote.
The story of how an arrogant man regains his lost youth and wonder through the art that he forsook so many years ago isn’t necessarily a new story. But the way in which Gilliam depicts this world, the way he subtly changes the dull realism of Toby‘s surroundings into an epic, adventurous Neverland is done with such magic and whimsy that it’s impossible not to be swept away yourself.
Essentially the film is a rallying cry against cynicism. In Terry Gilliam‘s world, windmills are giants, old men are gallant knights, young waitresses are princesses. And a 30 year old adventure in the making is never left to rot. You keep fighting until your dream becomes a reality.