The Man Who Killed Don Quixote feels like ten films crammed into one. Hardly surprising, considering that kooky director Terry Gilliam was making (and unmaking) this project for over twenty-five years, shuffling through actor after actor until he settled on Jonathan Pryce as the legendary knight, and Adam Driver as his devoted squire. The two rocket around modern and medieval Spain like hyperactive, sugar-filled toddlers in this garbled mess of an adventure, filled with jousting, duelling and the occasional make-out session with various sheep. In other cases, trying to cram several plotlines into one story might make the movie feel bloated, disjointed and dispassionately thrown together. But here, the film is undoubtedly a labour of love. It can be seen in every shot of the dazzling Spanish countryside, every stitch of each pearl-encrusted doublet, every word Quixote says.
All the actors are brilliant, but Pryce and Driver are bringing 200% to the table. Pryce speaks in this adorable Spanglish accent, squawking, jumping and galloping around the set, pushing over old women, stabbing windmills and flying to the moon and back as he tries to emulate the strange, but inherently charming psyche of Don Quixote de la Mancha. His performance is crazy, but in his more than capable hands, Pryce turns brash Quixote into a beautiful, poignant, broken character, who tugs at the heartstrings of every viewer. Adam Driver was so good, that I forgot I was meant to be mooning over my favourite Star Wars bad boy, (even when the Ben Swolo pecs came out). His character was the perfect foil to Quixote’s buffoonery and at first, the two work off each other with laugh-out-loud hilarity. But you can never play the voice of reason for long in a Terry Gilliam film and, sure enough, Driver throws himself headfirst into complete insanity, jumping around and screeching with the old knight as they ride off to conquer evil and save their damsels in distress.
The film feels like a deranged fever dream; characters appear and disappear without explanation, genres are shuffled like a pack of cards, and smoked hams sprout eyes and start leering at the camera. You’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next, as, like the never-ending endings of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, the film keeps going and going without any hint of wrapping up. Some viewers are undoubtedly going to have problems with this stylistic choice, as serious themes of old age, abuse, mental illness, marginalisation and trying to recapture lost glory, are quickly brushed aside for the next wild adventure. But despite its length and hallucinogenic trippiness, I was hooked on the screen from the opening few minutes. Gilliam’s outlandish style needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but the film immediately lets the audience know that it’s not here to tell a serious story (as shown by a version of the OG Quixote getting literally unhorsed in the opening minutes). It’s here to have FUN! And oh boy, does it! The humour goes from bumbling slapstick, to razor-sharp wit, to Pythonesque absurdity, to metatextual nonsense, with one of my favourite moments of the movie showing Adam Driver physically pushing the subtitles off the screen.
Outside of the realms of story and character, the film looks absolutely beautiful. Spain is shot with the kind of landscape-porn reverence that you usually only see in Peter Jackson epics, and the costumes and set designs of the final act are so opulent that it feels like the film is force-feeding you beluga caviar through the screen. Think Moulin Rouge mixed with Cleopatra, but bigger! All this craziness builds and builds with breakneck speed, ending in a climax that left me eating out of Driver’s hands in a truly incredible performance. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is not just a movie, but an experience, a triumphant call to adventure for every person, of any age or creed, to enjoy. Every minute of this film is imbued with a sense of timeless, child-like wonder, and despite whatever was lost in those long twenty-five years of production, it’s quite clear that Don Quixote is a man who will never be killed.
Words by Rachel Denham-White