It wasn’t the initial intention to reference the 29 year long troubled production behind The Man Who Killed Don Quixote this early in the review, so as to focus on the film’s own merits without the highly publicised behind-the-scenes woes. But as it turns out, long suffering director Terry Gilliam has reflected on the production hell and written his frustrations into the film itself. All this waiting and fighting to bring The Man Who Killed Don Quixote to the big screen seems to have been worth it for Gilliam as he demonstrates free reign of creative control throughout the entire run-time – the kind of creative control that’s produced this wholly self-indulgent, nonsensical, artistic wank of a film.
Gilliam uses filmmaker protagonist Toby Grisoni (Adam Driver) as his own surrogate, a frustrated director who, while filming a commercial featuring the Don Quixote character in rural Spain, travels through the local village, reminiscing about a short film he made years ago in this location, which happened to be called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. He then even finds the actor who played the title character, Javier (Jonathan Pryce), a cobbler who has believed he truly is Don Quixote ever since he played the role.
And through this play-world delusion, Toby and Javier traverse a surreal, time-bending journey through multiple timelines, where the people they know reappear as different characters in these different times. Even though this is a wild ride through various eras and cultures, it’s also a boring and deadening experience with nothing to ground itself – it’s all up in the air, as the film has little cohesion in its own principles. It’s very contrived – in a dream-like artistic way – but still very contrived.
This is a textbook example of a story comprised of “and then this happened and then this happened and then this happened,” as if it were written by a kid on a sugar high. There’s no build-up, no evolution of story or characters, and no purpose to divulge in its 132 minute runtime. The production design and the sheer audacity of such a twisty narrative may astound, but the core of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote feels like it was assembled over an increasingly drunken night rather than 29 years.