The Johnny Depp Archive

Don Juan DeMarco (1995)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Marlon Brando, Faye Dunaway

Directed by: Jeremy Leven

Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

'You wanna step into my world.'

Guns n' Roses My World
Johnny Depp as Don Juan DeMarco

Ah, Don Juan DeMarco: I adore this film. Like Sweet Charity, Chocolat and Big Fish, it's a film that leaves me with a feelgood glow and a huge soppy smile on my face. A romantic comedy with a twist, it's a story about truth and fantasy, fiction and rationality, and the very grey, very fascinating area in between.

Johnny Depp plays the title role: Don Juan, the greatest lover in the world. At the age of twenty-one, he's made love to over a thousand women, but the one woman he loves has rejected him. He has nothing to live for, so he decides to end his life. Enter psychiatrist Dr Jack Mickler (the late great Marlon Brando), who has to talk this delusional loony down from the top of a billboard - by pretending that he is Don Octavio de Flores. Poor Don Juan is sectioned, and Dr Jack has ten days to decide whether he really is crazy, before he retires and Don Juan is either committed or set free.

Johnny as Don Juan disguised as a concubine... not to be missed!

The tale the mysterious young man tells of his life is pure fairy tale romance, a picaresque adventure complete with shipwrecks, desert islands, harems full of beautiful women and duals to the death. It's highly entertaining (Johnny in harem drag is a sight not to be missed) but it must be bollocks. Certainly that's what the director of the mental institution believes: 'Put him on meds!' he cries in exasperation. But Dr Mickler is not so sure, and neither are we.

Could this strange young man really be Don Juan, the greatest lover in the world? Or is he Johnny DeMarco, some sad sack from Phoenix, Arizona, who fell in love with a centrefold girl and was gutted when she told him to get lost? We know which version of the truth we'd rather believe - and so does Dr Mickler.

Marlon Brando as Dr Mickler and Johnny Depp as Don Juan

Because Don Juan's beauty of spirit, his na´ve romantic soul and readiness to embrace life and love, has awakened in the doctor's tired old bones a spark, fanning a fire that he thought had gone out long ago: passion. Next thing he knows he's bought an exercise machine and is wooing his wife Marilyn (the ever beautiful Faye Dunaway) with roses and champagne. Would it really be right to dampen this vital spirit with anti-psychotic medication, dousing the flame for good?

As the film progresses, doctor and patient slowly begin to swap roles, as Mickler finds himself stepping into Don Juan's world and becoming a better person because of it. As Don Juan relates his adventures, we see their stories developing in parallel, the young man's sexual awakening and subsequent erotic escapades mirroring the reawakening of Dr Mickler's love for his wife as their comfortable relationship takes on a new lease of life.

Johnny as Don Juan

In the end, the unlikely pair cure each other: Don Juan tells the psychiatrists what they want to hear, the version of the truth they find palatable, and is released, and Dr Mickler too is released from the restrictions of his every day life, to go off travelling with his wife. Don't you just love a happy ending?

Like Big Fish, the question Don Juan DeMarco poses is simple: 'What's so wrong with living in a fantasy world?' Like Edward Bloom, Don Juan realises that life is what we make of it, so why not make it romantic, exciting, passionate, beautiful? Why choose to believe you're imprisoned in a mental institution when you can believe you're the guest of your good friend Don Octavio? By cloaking prosaic facts in glamour and romance, Don Juan can come to terms with his experiences. Sure, dressing up as Zorro isn't everyone's way of coping with the death of a parent, but it doesn't do anyone any harm - quite the reverse, as it turns out.

Both Don Juan and Bloom may be serial fantasists, but they touch people's lives and leave them better, happier, liberated. Don Juan's very presence is life enriching: women feel beautiful and desired in his company, whilst men find themselves inspired to imitate his vital, life affirming attitude. His black mask becomes the physical symbol of the masks we all wear to hide our true selves from the world. 'You have seen through all my masks,' Dr Mickler tells him; and having met Don Juan, he at last feels free to throw the masks away and really be himself.

Johnny as Don Juan, Faye Dunaway as Marilyn and Marlon Brando as Dr Mickler

Of course playing Don Juan is a bit of a challenge. Marvellous life affirming characters are all very well on paper, but can come over as pretty damn nauseating on screen. (No, Orphan Annie, the sun won't come out tomorrow. Now piss off.) However, it doesn't take much of a leap of imagination to believe that women would swoon at the sight of Johnny Depp in a mask and cape (and he is at his most poster boy perfect in this movie, all flowing locks and sun-kissed pecs), and the careful balance of romantic intensity and tongue in cheek good humour he maintains keep the character on the right side of ridiculous. And he somehow manages to reel off the most painfully embarrassing lines with a poker-straight face - even the one that's so cringeworthy in the Bryan Adams song that ends the film, about seeing your unborn babies in her eyes, sounds vaguely convincing when said with a lilting Castilian accent.

And then we have Marlon Brando, man mountain and a legend in his own (long) lunchtime, who gives a fine, moving performance as the jaded Dr Mickler. What a shame he didn't make more films like this in his latter days.

So there you have it: a film which, like Don Juan himself, is romantic, entrancing, charming, sexy, funny, life affirming and makes you feel great. Don Juan DeMarco represents the triumph of fantasy and romantic love over prosaic reality and dull, clinical, cold hard facts - and the real triumph lies in the fact that we, like Dr Mickler, can enter into the fantasy and make it our own. And, as Dr Mickler himself points out, why not?

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