Now that I've read Don Quixote, I keep finding references to him. They've probably always been there, but now I'm trying to understand more specifically what they mean.
For example, I recently saw Central Ohio's darling dairy farmer, Warren Taylor, referred to as Don Quixote. Was the writer saying that he doesn't understand the world around him? That he's delusional?
Then I saw Lost in La Mancha, the documentary about Terry Gilliam’s failed (so far) attempt to make a move of Don Quixote. The movie really wants to make a claim that Gilliam is Don Quixote, deluded into thinking that this movie dream of his is possible, despite the evidence to the contrary. But that never quite worked for me either.
And here's the reason. I get the impression from this movie that Gilliam understands exactly what he's up against. He has experience making movies, even big productions. Some of them have been hits, and others have not. He's pursuing one specific idea, one that he knows will be a challenge but one that he's willing to try again and again until he makes it happen.
Gilliam's not Don Quixote. He's Ahab.
Moby Dick's Ahab was an experienced whaling captain with years of success. After losing his leg, Ahab becomes obsessed with finding the whale that did it--a whale that happens to be white and therefore recognizable as an individual he can track across the globe. And he does. He charts his course through waters not based on where the best whaling is, something he understands from his previous experience, but based on where he's heard rumors that the white whale has been spotted. At one point, the Pequod comes across another whaling ship that requests assistance--the captain's son has been lost during a hunt, and the captain is scouring that part of the ocean to find him. Certainly, Ahab, who even has children at home, could relate to this desperation, but he can't tear himself away from his own search. (Luckily for Ishmael, the captain is still searching for his son after Ahab has battled and lost to the whale.)
Don Quixote would never do this. Don Quixote has a skewed understanding of the way the world works, but he tries always to do what is most noble and right, albeit by his own definition. When Don Quixote agrees to help (what he sees as) a damsel in distress, she makes him promise not to grant any other promises of help until he completes her mission. He has a really difficult time sticking to this, in part because of his short temper and in part because he so quickly recognizes injustices and feels a compulsion to right wrongs. After Don Quixote attacks his first giant, he doesn't keep attacking it once he sees that it's a windmill.
Don Quixote's actions are completely coherent *given his delusion*, but he is under a delusion. Ahab, on the other hand, understands perfectly well what he's facing and what he's asking of other people, but he is intent on reaching his goal.
I'm not recommending that Terry Gilliam give up on his white whale, a movie production of Don Quixote. If I can cross references here a bit, I feel a bit like the Duke and Duchess, encouraging him on in something that may not be good for him or others, but that is fascinating to watch. I want to cheer for Gilliam in a way I could never commit to cheer for Ahab, maybe because he's a real human and therefore more sympathetic. But he's still Ahab.
So who might be closer to a real-life Don Quixote? I have an idea, but I'd love to hear yours too. Tune in next week to hear mine!
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