The Melancholy in Robin Williams’ Characters

Recently, my mom and I started to watch movies that we had recommended to one another; it became a recurring thing this summer. Last Sunday, I suggested that we watch Good Will Hunting and after seeing Robin Williams in the cast, she suggested we watch Mrs. Doubtfire after. Sure, they are a bit different with regard to plot, and really, a few parts of Mrs. Doubtfire have not exactly aged well, but as I was watching both movies, I saw something that I had not noticed before. Whether it is a professor or a dad dressed up in a nanny costume to be closer to his children, Robin Williams’ characters always carried a sense of sadness. In the climax of every dramatic resolution, he looks as if not only his characters but he himself carried lots of pain and an intense amount of empathy for those who are in pain. Now, I do not feel confident about my conclusion because it is too cliché to assume that his comedy works as the tourniquet of some open wound in his soul, and I do not want it to sound like any other newspaper article written after his suicide because it would not do him or his legacy justice.



In both aforementioned movies, with one being a Drama/Romance and the other being a Family Comedy, there is something in William’s portrayal of his characters that shows an intense sensitivity to the world and others. The eyes of Professor Maguire and Daniel Hillard (from Good Will Hunting and Mrs. Doubtfire respectively) both give off the weariness of feeling a lot and having felt more than anyone. Surely, that could be the work of a great actor, but it feels wrong to say that it is only his immense ability that gives off the tender melancholy of his characters.


In Mrs. Doubtfire, his character Daniel Hillard has just separated from his wife and he has very little custody of his kids. We see him battle the direst of situations by dressing up as an old lady, or working different jobs so he might be enough to see them more. When his cover is blown, he loses all chances to see his kids and can only meet them when someone is monitoring them in the room. His sadness feels real, and Robin Williams convinces whoever is watching the movie that he understands the pain his character is going through.


In Good Will Hunting, he is a wise professor of psychology who has loved and lost, and his frustration with Will, a troubled young man who is refusing to get help, and his grief feel very real. Will, who had a troubling past and who is scared to love and to be loved, can only truly speak when Professor Maguire shares his grief with him. Sharing both the grief of loss and the thankfulness of having met someone he loved moves Will to chase love in his life. Watching Sean Maguire, I was reminded of his role in Dead Poets Society. Similarly, as John Keating, he is a beacon of light to his students but it is easy to tell that he is carrying some exhaustion on his back: the exhaustion that comes with not being able to express this sensitivity, of having quarreled with people who do not feel or live as much as him. He wants to fight for his students and their right to ‘carpe diem’ or **seize the day.


When John Keating is inevitably fired from his job for the very horrid crime of teaching his students to go beyond their curriculum, we see the famous “Oh Captain, My Captain” scene where his students bid him farewell by getting on their desks, and although not everyone is affected by his leaving, the ones standing up are changed forever. To be able to change one or touch one’s soul is something only a compassionate, sensitive, empathetic person can do. That is why Will Hunting can fight his demons with the help of Sean Maguire, and that is why the students of John Keating know that there is something beyond their books and it is why all of his children love Daniel Hillard, in every shape or form.


In the 8th year after his death, his legacy of impacting people goes beyond the movies he has made. Who is to speak of the demons he was facing when only he could have known; what we can do is appreciate the love, kindness, and laughter he has shared through his movies.


Photo Credit:

Robin Williams Quit Lucasfilm's "Marvel" Movie After Just 3 Days - Inside the Magic. Pinterest, pin.it/7fi08iN. Accessed 22 Aug. 2022.

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