You know what we’re talking about: The Robin Williams monologue is that moment in a movie when the legendary funnyman tugs at your heartstrings a little, usually while communicating one of the film’s grand themes. Unlike his comedy, the monologue isn’t a flamboyant display of improvisational genius; Williams generally hews to a soft dynamic and steady rhythm, letting the words come out evenly, imbuing the essential drama of the moment with his vibrancy, finding light in the darkness and inspiration in tragedy. It transcends the classic trope of the “wise fool” or the clown spouting truisms. In these moments, Williams reveals his own humanity. It’s one of the many reasons we’ll miss him.
Dead Poets Society
As the freethinking, feather-ruffling John Keating, the new English teacher at an ultraconservative academy for boys, Williams delivers an inspiring monologue to a huddled group of unripe talent. He changed the course of many young lives, on-screen and off, when he made this famous call to poetic action: “What will your verse be?”
Released a year after Dead Poets Society, this film cemented Williams’s reputation as a “serious actor.” As Dr. Malcolm Sayer opposite Robert De Niro’s catatonic Leonard Lowe, Williams conveys a powerful depth of empathy in this life-affirming, if button-pushing, movie.
The Fisher King
This modern retelling of the Grail story, set in early 1990s New York, may be one of Williams’s “lost” movies, overshadowed by Awakenings and Dead Poets Society. But it is a visual indulgence (from director Terry Gilliam), with Williams playing a Central Park vagrant–Arthurian court fool–voice of eternal wisdom to Jeff Bridges’s injured king. This touching monologue of the eternal hero’s journey definitely drives home the metaphor.
The English nanny with the lilting accent and prodigious bosom is one of Williams’s most beloved creations. We could easily have compiled a list of classic comic scenes from this movie alone—the cake-frosting mask, the run-by fruiting and so on—but Mrs. Doubtfire’s final, tender monologue, about divorce, reminds us that this character is more than just a man in a full-figure bodysuit.
Good Will Hunting
In a bench scene to rival Forrest Gump’s, Williams delivers a powerful monologue on life, love and art to a stubborn young math genius played by Matt Damon. Williams’s performance sealed his only Academy Award win and confirmed, as if there were any further doubts, his supreme dramatic abilities.
Photo courtesy of Everett