The 2002 documentary Lost In La Mancha chronicled director Terry Gilliam’s unsuccessful attempt to turn the classic Spanish novel Don Quixote into a feature film. Just days into shooting The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, star Jean Rochefort injured his back and had to drop out. A series of other tragedies befell the production, and eventually the movie was cancelled.
But Gilliam never gave up on the project. In a new interview with Deadline’s Mike Fleming about his latest (completed) film, Zero Theorem, Gilliam talks about his continued efforts to resurrect his Quixote, an obsession he compared to “demonic possession.”
After his latest attempt to adapt Cervantes’ novel fell apart, Gilliam says, he asked his agent to find him something to direct; that ultimately led to Zero Theorem. But despite all the headaches and heartache, Gilliam claims he still hasn’t abandoned the idea of making a Quixote movie—not yet, at least. Here he describes the struggle to make the film as a movie logline:
“A waste of life [laughs]. What is strange, it has become a kind of Holy Grail, it became a focus I’ve poured a lot of energy towards, even obliquely while I was doing something else. It’s very odd, but I’m almost at the point where I’m ready to give it up. I’ve just spent too many years on this, and each time I had a go at it I’ve rewritten it again, to reflect what I’ve been through or how I’m seeing the world. So I then sometimes steal ideas from what I was going to do with Quixote, and incorporate them into whatever film might come along. It has been a kind of idea warehouse.”
So after more than a dozen years, who knows how many false starts, and the occasional catastrophic production collapse, Gilliam is “almost at the point” where he might give it up. Almost! What do you think would have to happen for him to totally abandon it? I don’t think anything less than planetary nuclear annihilation would truly stop him. And even then Gilliam would probably keep going. (“Look at all this bombed out rubble! Fantastic production value!”)
One of the greatest gifts Don Quixote gave the world was the adjective “quixotic,” which is used to describe someone who is “foolishly impractical, especially in the pursuit of ideals.” For a long time, Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote has, quite appropriately, been one of the most quixotic projects in cinema history. But I think we’re almost at the point where we need to create a new adjective for a situation where quixotic doesn’t cover the extent of the foolishness and impracticality of the pursuit. For those times, we should use the work “gilliamesque.”