But it has also left me with a great deal of thanks to him for brightening my days with laughter and for making me think a little bit when he turned on the drama. While films like Dead Poet's Society and Good Will Hunting showed us his vast dramatic acumen, there are other films of his that showcased his complex talent for bringing emotion to life on the screen.
One of these overlooked gems is One Hour Photo.
Sy Parrish is a middle-aged photo tech at a big box chain store (think Wal Mart) called Savmart. On the surface, Sy seems like your ordinary store clerk, just trying to get through his day so he can get home to the wife and kids. But look deeper. You soon learn that Sy leads a pretty pathetic life, a solitary existence in which he is more likely to heat up a tv dinner for supper and sit around watching reruns of Barney Miller. There is no wife. There are no kids. There's not even a cat. Unfortunately, Sy is more reclusive and introverted than you think. He is also one fry short of a happy meal. His job at Savmart is all he lives for. Well, that and the Yorkin family.
The Yorkins, Will (Michael Vartan), Nina (Connie Nielsen) and their nine year old son Jake (Dylan Smith) are Sy's favorite customers. He lets them know this when they come to the Savmart but not in an overly obvious way. He takes their order and comments on things that happen in their lives, even going as far as to give Jake a "free" throwaway camera for his birthday.
But Sy takes it a bit further than that. He lives vicariously through them as he develops all their photographs and secretly makes copies of each picture for himself.
In one of the creepiest moments in the film, we see just what he is doing with all those photos. He has wallpapered his entire wall with their lives. The Yorkins remain unaware of Sy's psychological problems and when Nina and Jake often drop film off they make polite conversation and seem only mildly rattled when Sy seems to remember key elements of their lives, brushing it off by reminding them that he takes great pride in developing their pictures. Jake even feels empathy for Sy, admitting that "Sy the photo guy" seems very sad and that he doesn't think he has anyone that loves him.
Sy attempts to involve himself matter-of-factly into their lives by doing things like showing up at the mall where Nina shops to run into her and chat, buying Jake a toy he notices him admiring, and happening upon Will in the hardware department of the store to see if he can help him even though it's not his section. He implants himself gregariously, even imagining scenarios in which he enters their home and is showering, making dinner, and watching television until the Yorkins get home and time stops - and then they laugh and joke with "Uncle Sy". It's all very unsettling when you realize just how sad and potentially alarming Sy's behavior is.
When Sy develops some photos which show Will and another woman very obviously having an affair, this sends Sy over the deep end - and that is when things get scary. Sy begins to envision scenarios in which he confronts Will, and even easily sets it up so that Nina gets her hands on the incriminating photos. Meanwhile, Sy's work suffers and his boss (played with flavor by Gary Cole) notices the photo count is way off base. Questioning him about where all the extra photos are, he ends up firing him when Sy denies taking the pictures.
When Sy finally snaps, it is the same time that the police become involved, leading to a show-down of sorts that goes in unexpected ways you won't see coming. There is nothing loud or demonstrative about this film, but its quiet doom is malignant.
Robin Williams was a true talent, and is no different here. His Sy is so incredibly unnerving - so foreboding, that it almost feels possible to understand how someone could be depressed enough to do something completely out of sorts. If I'd have seen this film before Williams' suicide, I think I'd have felt the same way, but this is such a clear picture of a desperately lonely man that it almost feels like I took a peek into reality - and what I saw was melancholy, somber, and most of all troubled. I don't want to say that Robin Williams was able to easily emulate the character of Sy because of his own growing despondency, but in watching One Hour Photo, it is there. It is just....there. I would like to choose to believe he's just that good of an actor....but everyone puts a little bit of themselves into a role. Here, it felt like a lot.
Regarding the film, whether or not it showcased true emotions peeking through is not for me to say. What I will say is that this is a great movie about a very lonely individual who let the lines of reality blur, causing him to shatter his existence as he knew it and fade into someone else's life. It's a portrait of depression, isolation, and heartache whose final act only lays bare these facts: there are people out there that no matter how kind you are to them, they are not living based in reality - and someday they are going to crack. We just need to either be aware and try to help, or stay the hell out of their way before they turn into a sociopath.