Come Inside My Mind, airing on HBO Monday night, is a thoughtful and wistful portrait of an elusive subject.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to pump neurons,” Robin Williams announces in voiceover, over a black screen. “We are about to enter the domain of the human mind.” In the two hours that follow, the director Marina Zenovich tackles one of the most explosively cerebral subjects in comedy. Williams was someone whose creative energy was so vast that it seemed to overwhelm his body in performance, his limbs jerking and his face contorting as they tried to keep pace with his frantic, restless brain.
Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, which airs on HBO Monday night, ticks all the boxes of a standard biography, charting Williams’s childhood, his early days in improv, his quick and destabilizing success with Mork & Mindy, and his path into film acting. Zenovich’s primary curiosity, though, seems to involve the mechanics of Williams’s genius. She layers scenes of his standup shows and old photographs on top of interviews with Williams’s family, friends, and peers. “In my head, my first sight of him was that he could fly, because of the energy,” David Letterman says. “All I could really do was hang onto the microphone for dear life, and here was a guy who could levitate.” But Williams’s manic onstage energy had a flip side, as Zenovich explores: addictions to drugs, alcohol, and affirmation; a particular discomfort when he wasn’t performing; and a profound fear of failure and abandonment, even at the height of his success.