This post discusses suicide. If you feel you are in crisis, or are considering taking your life please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It is a free, 24-hour hotline, at 1.800.273.TALK (8255)
One specific moment in Come Inside My Mind, HBO's documentary on Robin Williams' exceptional life stuffed with old photos, footage and interviews, serves as the thesis for the film. Someone asks Williams, revered for his high-frequency, frenzied magic in Mork & Mindy, Jumanji, The Crazy Ones and more, if he knows anyone whose brain works as fast as his.
"I'm starting to meet them," he says softly, as the film delves into his time with Dr. Oliver Sacks, the neurologist Williams portrayed in the 1990 film Awakenings, who said watching Robin Williams work was one of the most amazing experiences of his life. Williams, the gentlest of souls, is seen marveling at a genius with Tourette Syndrome — awed by the complexity of his brilliant, unpredictable brain. "The brain is one thing," Williams says. "Then there's this other thing called the mind. There is deity, that divine spark...this is what we're dealing with as artists, comedians, writers. actors. You're going to come to the edge and look over and sometimes you're going to step over the edge. And then you're going to come back. Hopefully."
The tragedy of the documentary, debuting July 16, is the fact that Williams didn't come back over the edge. Suicide typically leaves grieving family, friends and fans struggling for answers but in the case of Robin Williams, known for his zest and sunny energy, his suicide seemed to defy all sense or reason. But tragedy isn't the focus of the film. The good, and I guess bad news for people seeking an explanation as to why the beloved performer took his life August 11, 2014 is that Come Inside My Mind does not live in the specifics of Williams' death. Marina Zenovich's documentary only devotes a few minutes near the end to have best pal Bobcat Woldwaithe explain that Williams had Lewy body dementia — discovered only after his death — which third wife Susan Williams called "The Terrorist Inside My Husband's Brain" in a 2016 Neurology essay. Symptoms of the illness, which was only properly diagnosed posthumously, include constipation, intense anxiety, memory loss and suicidal thoughts.
LBD corrupted Williams' brain but, as the title suggests, Come Inside My Mind spends more time exploring Williams' mind and teases out the differences between the two. Using images of his divine goofiness in action and audio of his soft, playful voice, Zenovich tells the story of how Robin Williams became able to disappear into the crevices of consciousness to deliver stunning performances in films like Good Morning, Vietnam and Mrs. Doubtfire, as well as the dark side of his gifts and the prices he paid for his ability. It's all very lovely, respectful and not overly sad, thanks in part to its twinkly, upbeat score and so many images of Williams smiling his blinding smile.
But Come Inside My Mind only flirts with any kind of declarative thesis about the mysteries of Williams' special muscle. His is a fascinating, extraordinarily rare case study of a man who seemed always in the present and forever open to wonder and curiosity until his brain began to betray him; one of his half brothers says, as a clip of Williams as the homeless man Parry in The Fisher King plays, that every role Robin took on became part of his personality. Hinted at, but never explored, is the question of whether whatever gave Robin Williams such an elastic, spongy mind might have had some connection to the disease that eventually stole it. Come Inside My Mind was not the time or place for scientific insights, but the doc may leave fans longing for some authoritative voice to explain how Robin's mind, a true joy to the world, met such a cruel twist of fate at the end. Perhaps Zenovich knew that no answer, ultimately, will soothe the agony of losing him. The world is dimmer without Robin Williams' spirit in it, and that is just how it is. Better to focus on all the astonishing things Williams did with his mind before LBD robbed him of it, and Come Inside My Mind does so with admiration and love.
Come Inside My Mind is available Monday, July 16 at 5 p.m. PST on HBO GO and HBO NOW; it airs on HBO Monday July 16 at 8 p.m. PST.