In August 2014, comedy and movie fans across the world were shocked to hear the news that celebrated comedian and award-winning actor Robin Williams had died at the age of 63. He had committed suicide at his home. The initial reactions and press assumptions immediately jumped to tales from Williams’ past, tales of battles with depression and substance abuse. They were quick to paint a picture of the sad clown struggling to keep a smiling face in front of the camera, reaching a point when he just couldn’t face it all anymore. But there was much more to it than that. While he may have been driven to take his own life, the circumstances leading up to it were much different to the narrative that played out in the media in the days following his death.
It is this misunderstanding that this documentary seeks to unpack, as it strives to set the record straight and bring to light the difficulty that faced Robin Williams in his last days, as he battled with a disease that he didn’t even know he had. Robin had been diagnosed with early stages of Parkinson’s Disease shortly before his death, but the autopsy report in the November following his passing revealed that he had been suffering from diffuse Lewy body dementia, a condition which deteriorates the mind, increases anxiety, triggers paranoia and causes extreme depression. The spotlight is very much on the disease and that comes to form the objective of this documentary, as it is not only making a statement of truth as to what led Williams to take his own life, but it also wants to bring more awareness of the disease that was ultimately responsible.
Robin’s Wish prominently features Robin’s widow, Susan Schneider Williams throughout, as well as neighbours and friends, as they recall what he was like in the last year of his life. For his wife, the diagnosis made a lot of that last year make much more sense, as she describes an increased level of paranoia in his life and a level of anxiety he had never displayed before. Much of these accounts from his wife, in particular, can prove to be very tough to watch, as it is clear the pain of losing him is very much still raw. But there is a sense of determination in Susan Schneider Williams that is ultimately quite inspiring, as she has clearly dedicated herself to bringing attention to the effects of diffuse Lewy body dementia so that others can have more clarity on a disease that she and her husband knew nothing about during his last few months.
It is a very noble and worthy intention for this documentary to have, a film that as an experience can often feel a little disjointed as it jumps back and forth from medical professionals explaining the details of the disease to a loose account of Robin’s life. It is certainly intended much more as an examination of the disease more than anything else, and in that it is very informative as it delivers the details of diffuse Lewy body dementia. As a result, the film often feels like it is operating more as a public service announcement (it’s even shot like one), but we do get a sense of Robin’s larger than life personality along the way. There are a number of anecdotes from friends that feel insightful and enlightening as to painting a picture as to how colourful and bright a person Robin was to be around, but it also skirts around a lot of other details in his life, namely that of his other marriages and his children. While these relationships are suspicious by their absence, there are still enough accounts of the friendships in his life that pertain to the size of his caring heart, particularly involving his work with veterans and his very involved relationship with the community of the north-Californian suburb in which he and Susan lived.
Robin’s Wish is not a definite documentary on Williams himself, but it is a statement that his wife has clearly been very determined to declare in a very public manner. It is a statement designed to remove the negative cloud of misconception that emerged around his death as a result of the media jumping to conclusions. A more fitting title may have been Susan’s Wish, as it very much is an account of her working through the grief of losing her husband to such a horrible disease, and finding some purpose and meaning in that loss. It makes for a film that is very heavy on medical fact and some very sad accounts of what that disease did to a much-loved man in the last few months of his life. It makes for a very specific informational film, but one that could prove to be very helpful and enlightening to people suffering from the same disease, and particularly their loved ones having to witness its effects.
Dir: Tylor Norwood
Scr: Tylor Norwood, Scott Fitzloff
Prd: Tylor Norwood, Ben Sinclair
DOP: Tylor Norwood
Music: Aaron Drake
Runtime: 77 minutes
ROBIN’S WISH is out now on Digital and On Demand on all major platforms. For more information please go to https://www.robinswishfilm.