- Movie Rating -

The World According to Garp (1982)

| July 23, 1982

The World According to Garp is based on the only John Irving book that I ever read.  I read it in college and all I can say is that nothing in it made me want to look further into his work.  It was a strange fantasy, a journey through the life of a very strange man in a story populated by mean-spirited people who carried with them an emotional backswing suitable for your average vampire bat.  I think I dropped it in the garbage can on the way out of English class.

The movie isn’t quite as volatile in part because it lightens the load on the characters (Hollywood productions are notorious for that) and because it shifts the book’s perspective.  Irving’s book was an inward journey, largely drawing us into the character’s head.  The movie is more of a fish bowl experience in which you are watching a man’s life from the 50-yard line.  It’s a better adaptation but you’re never quite as engaged as you want to be.

The movie would like to be one of those whimsical fantasies that heightens the reality of a single life with characters who are much bolder and out front than people that we meet in real life.  The boldness is there but the glue to hold the story in place is missing.  We are invited into the world of T.S. Garp (Robin Williams) whose life seems to have more interesting highs and lows then World War II.  He was born to a nurse named Helen (Glenn Close) who was such a militaristic feminist that she basically regarded men with the same temper in which children regard brussels sprouts.  He was conceived in a military hospital when his mother, wanting a baby but not a husband, helped herself to the member of a Technical Sergeant who was suffering brain damage and a case of priapism, which helped.

As Garp grows up, he is befuddled by women.  He is constantly surrounded by women, shielded from women and at times guided by women.  Women are an island of mystery here, a far shore that is both illusive and misunderstood.  They provide a strange template for his journey, which seems to be just one damned thing after another as death and tragedy hang over him like a dark cloud.  There’s an assassin; there’s a plane crashes into his house; there’s a car accident and it all seems to come from a universe that wants to punish him for being born – or perhaps punish him for having been born a man.  I wasn’t clear on that.

The movie shifts back and forth between whacky shenanigans and violence and tragedy.  Now, you might think that this makes for a very unfortunate and jarring tone problem and you’d be right.  I was never 100% sure what road this movie wanted to take from one moment to the next.  Director George Roy Hill seems to want to have it both ways, to honor the book and to find a way to draw comedy out of Robin Williams.

The result is a movie that is a mess but never a bore.  But the overriding issue with the movie (and the book) is kind of a big one.  The story isn’t really the world according to Garp.  It’s really a random series of unfortunate events via Garp’s perspective.  Nothing in the movie ever really provides a perspective, a theory, an idea or a philosophy about what he thinks about his life or the nature of the universe.  This is not a man in control of his life, rather he is a cypher through which strangeness and tragedy just inevitably fall.  We reacts to it but what does he think of it.  From that, I wish the movie was little more honest, a little more insightful, a little more about a person and not just a pawn in a game of cosmic hopscotch.  

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1982) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy, Drama