It’s been five years since the world tragically lost Robin Williams and he’s fondly remembered for a multitude of roles he made iconic, and though he’s recognized more often for his comedic roles his dramatic performances were just as strong whether it’s Good Will Hunting or Dead Poet Society. There is one movie however that perhaps doesn’t get as much recognition as it should and that movie is The World According to Garp. This film may not be Robin William’s strongest dramatic performance but with an interesting story and some decent directing, it shouldn’t be one that’s forgotten.
The movie focuses on a man named Garp, whose father was a pilot that died during the war and a mother who wanted a child without the commitment to a man in marriage as she truly believes that a man is driven by lust when it comes to women. A hard point to be argued, to be sure. Garp dreams of flying as a kid and wants to be a writer as an adult but as he’s also trying to create his own identity away from his feminist mother, as life clashes and his marriage gets intense. The story is kind of interesting as you watch this man who’s been born in unusual circumstances go through life. It plays with symbolism and what love and identity truly are. My biggest problem is that there was a couple of times I had to ask where this story was going. I don’t need predictability but the filmmakers never really set out an end goal for the characters. It drags a little bit with some scenes that definitely could’ve been cut out to help it flow better.
The characters in the movie are quite interesting but can also be rather frustrating at times. Garp is a person who grew up with a helicopter, feminist mother who believes men are controlled by lust. He picks up a lot of his mother’s parenting and uses it on his own kids from keeping his neighborhood safe to calling out to his son to watch out for the undertow when he goes swimming in the ocean. The first story he writes about magic gloves is intriguing as it ended up playing out in his life. Although he doesn’t possess any actual magic gloves, there is something that plays the same role. In the story, the gloves protect the man while giving happiness to others while unable to feel anything his self. It’s not until he takes the gloves off does he actually get to feel something but the thing he feels is death and he smiles. For Garp, his mother is the magic gloves that protect him from dangers and helps provide happiness in his world while also causing some sadness and it’s not until his mother dies that he can finally fly after being shot himself with no mother to help him. It’s also interesting that a plane crashes into his new house, almost symbolic of how his life is about to crash in the house instead of creating the opportunity to finally fly.
The women in the movie are complicated in their own way. Garp’s mother ends up writing a book about her life and it sparks a feminist movement. She’s always been obsessed with Garp’s safety to the point where it becomes annoying and at times I really didn’t like her. She may have raped the soldier so she could have a son and it’s not okay but with her movement, it gives it a different view. The way she tries to control Garp’s life makes you feel bad for the guy but I do have to question, why did she all the sudden get this interest in writing? It almost makes it feel like it was because she wanted to keep Garp in a shadow and almost makes you dislike her more. Helen breaks Garp’s mother idea that men only fall for lust when she starts cheating on Garp with one of her students which makes this grey ground and makes the story almost a little messy. You’d think Garp’s mother would be mad with the fact her son’s wife cheated on him but that’s not the case at all and I feel it’s a wasted opportunity for a conflict between the two women. There was also nothing really said about getting married which I felt was another missed moment given all the love and lust talk his mother had been talking about previously.
The performances are excellent across the board with an excellent lead in Robin Williams as T.S. Garp. I do feel this isn’t his best dramatic performance but it’s still quite good. He brings a strangeness to the character who clearly grew up differently than other people and had a great scene when he finds out his wife is cheating. Mary Beth Hurt plays the timid wife of Garp, Helen. She has a lot more of a quieter performance but she plays subtlety well. Glenn Close plays Garp’s mother, Jenny Field, whom I think is the best in the movie. There’s something about her nature and realism that just grips the viewer whenever she’s on-screen. Big shout out to John Lithgow who plays the transgender Roberta and was so good in the film. He transformed into this character so well that I could hardly tell it was him. The only performances I wasn’t too fond of was the kids but it’s easy to overlook because they aren’t on screen too much and it’s difficult to get good performances out of them. They weren’t annoying but it could’ve been better.
The movie is directed by George Roy Hill and he does a fairly good job adapting the story on screen. He plays with foreground and background quite in the movie and it works effectively. He gets good performances out of his actors and his use of symbolism and the themes of love and identity are very well realized. There were some really good scenes where he plays with how Garp could be seeing a situation whether it’s in his drawings or watching his short story play out in front of him. I do feel though it could’ve been explored more how his views on certain things differ from other people.
The World According to Garp is a good movie with an interesting story and deep characters. Not everything entirely works within the story but it’s worth watching all the way through to see the great performances and explore the symbolism and themes presented in the story. It may not be one of Robin Williams’s most remembered film but it certainly shouldn’t be one to be forgotten and should be sought out and viewed at least once because I’m still thinking about certain parts of it.
The World According to Garp (1982)
The World According to Garp is a solid movie that explores an interesting story of love and identity. This may not be a role that Robin Williams is most remembered for but it’s still a good one. The story might feel a little long and have some pacing problems but it’s worth a watch if you’re missing this legendary actor and looking for something different.