Robin Williams, known so well for his voice over in Aladdin (1992) and zany and dark performance as a cross dressing nanny in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), which won Williams the 1994 Golden Globe for best actor, stars in the motion picture Boulevard (2014) released only one month before Williams’ tragic suicide. Boulevard had had mixed reviews from critics, but is receiving more attention lately as people discover more about Williams’ life and draw parallels between some of the major themes in the film Boulevard to Williams’ own life. Being a method actor from the “old school” of acting, Williams often played the role of a conflicted character placed in between two non-ideal choices.
Warning: spoilers ahead.
Boulevard opens with Williams’ character Nathan visiting his dad, a stroke victim, in a hospital. He proceeds to take a detour on the way home through a district of male prostitutes. After seeming to decide to drive home after some subtle voyeurism, Nathan strikes a man–who turns out to be a male prostitute–with his car. Nathan befriends the man, Leo, by taking him to a hotel and paying him merely for conversation.
At this point, Nathan makes several philosophical statements portending his general dissatisfaction in the current way his life is constructed.
“I used to like being in hotels when I was a kid… it was fun, just being somewhere else.”
Nathan goes on to almost give away the whole movie plot when he alludes to the ephemeral nature of love as well as what would be the eventual fate of Robin Williams himself and the view of his family and fans.
“People leave, but with some people, it just doesn’t seem fair.”
After just the one night, Nathan says that he would like to see Leo again and gives him his phone number.
We soon get to know Nathan through his dinner party with his friend Winston, who seems somewhat detached, perhaps due to his dating a woman much younger than himself, which could be an allusion to the fact Winston, unlike Nathan, has already found joy in his life.
We are also introduced to Nathan’s wife Joy (ironically titled), played by Kathy Baker, who at first appears to be oblivious to the troubled nature of her husband and who, after learning that Winston and his young girlfriend had taken a cruise, lets Nathan know that her heart is set on a cruise for the two of them as well.
Waiting impatiently for a call from Leo, Nathan travels again to the same street of male prostitutes and finds Leo, confronting him surprisingly as a jilted lover. He hands him a brand new mobile phone which he says already has his number programmed in just in case Leo forgets his number again.
At this point we are already seeing one of the themes of the film: that in trying to set someone free, we might be imprisoning them in our own world-view. Robin Williams delivers a great performance as a jealous lover as he later confronts Leo’s pimp, taking a punch in the eye from him after handing over $150 to stop Leo getting a beating.
Themes in the film which become manifest are (1) the banality of a life lived for other people, (2) that affairs can be one of the heart as opposed to the flesh (Nathan never has sex with Leo, who points out that their meetings still count as an affair despite the lack of sex), (3) money and fame cannot buy happiness (Nathan does not seem very enthusiastic about his promotion at work and in fact quits his job to pursue his new life) and (4) the only escape from unhappiness is letting go of the present.
Despite Nathan’s transformation and eventual outing of himself as a homosexual, Williams’ character is flawed and it is these flaws that draw eerie parallels with the actor’s own life. For example, the continuous fake smile that Nathan portrays to the outside world despite his internal struggles parallels Williams’ own battle with depression. The stigma against mental illness that Robin Williams suffered is not like the stigma around homosexuality, as illustrated by Nathan’s boss when he says he will “go to hell” for signing a mortgage for a gay couple.
The film is uncomfortable to watch sometimes, especially as we see the life Nathan has built slowly falling apart around him as he discovers who he is through the one-sided affair he is having with Leo, but as the film was released only one month before Williams’ own suicide, it is clear that this film represents, more than any other, including Night At the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, which was well acted as well, but did not have the sheer power of stoic transformation with such films as Lost in Translation (2003). Nathan sums it all up at the end.
“I drove down a street one night, a street I didn’t know. That’s the way your life goes sometimes. ‘Till I find this one and another, and now…another.”
The last “another” for Robin Williams was death, but not before he delivered his Swan Song to the world which everyone, not just the LGBT community, can learn from. For more of Robin Williams enjoy the embedded radio show below.
— Reel Film Chatter (@ReelFilmChatter) August 13, 2015
[Image via Getty]