The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018) IMDb


Terry Gilliam (director).


Seen in 2019.

Seen in a jam-packed Draken as the last film of GIFF 2019.


Contemporary Todorovian-uncanny metatheatre. This film completes the project documented in Lost in La Mancha (2002).


A director once made a student film about Don Quixote. He has returned to that motif in an advertisement ten years into his career.


The good: Gilliam is admirably restrained with the CGI effects. There are clever little touches throughout the narrative, including the blending of Muslim migrant workers and Quixote’s Saracens, a motif twisted later on when Quixote himself preaches religious tolerance along the lines of the many Spanish states that slowed or resisted the long Reconquista. The whole thing flows well enough except for the awakenings. Gilliam demonstrates real love of the literary figure whose themes underpin his entire career. Unsurprisingly, Gilliam aligns himself personally with Don Quixote: Like Toby, Gilliam has spent much of his preceding ten years in advertising, with Hollywood spectacles and prominently branded short film productions, and it is Toby who gets to carry the torch in the end. Toby’s passively grey-black morality is a pretty good recurring joke and his profession enables the unsubtle metatheatre. On the whole, it is a successful attempt to cover both the farce of the original and Quixote as a portal to modern literature, for a modern audience, without just bringing the whole thing into the present day.

The bad: Whereas Cervantes allows Dulcinea to be an unseen normal person, realistically unresponsive to Quixote’s creepy idolization of her, Gilliam inserts three female characters who are all on screen, identified primarily as sexual objects. There is some nuance but it’s uncomfortably close to the madonna-whore gender roles that infest Gilliam’s immediately preceding features, most prominently The Zero Theorem (2013). Sex intersects a melodrama with the boss and the oligarch as mutually redundant villains. This melodrama should exist in Quixote’s wishful thinking but for some reason, it is equally flat and intractable in external reality, which leaves no point to the escapism. A tertiary villain, the unnamed “Gypsy”, is less consistently evil, but his violence against the Civil Guard aligns too neatly with antizigan stereotype. Gilliam fails to make a point out of dissolving the barriers between reality and the various levels of fantasy: Supernatural medieval knight-errantry vs. Quixote’s racist 17th century vs. a romantic version of modern Europe etc. The transitions can be awkward, like the awakenings; the village where Toby shot his student film is just called “The Dreams”, which is sophomoric. In the end, there aren’t any major surprises or great depths in this creative vision, despite it taking 29 years to make the movie.

fiction moving picture