Sy Parrish, played by Robin Williams (Hook, Good Morning Vietnam) is a shy, socially awkward man. He works at the photo development booth of a large department store, where he has been for years. Diligent and skilled at his job, Sy has become a fixture of the store and the film begins with him discussing the regulars he sees at work; from the terrible holiday photos to the amateur pornographer. One family seems special to Sy, however. He seems to have a deep affection for the Yorkin family; regulars of the store they know Seymour by name and exchange small talk when visiting.
Unbeknown to the Yorkin family, Sy has developed an unhealthy obsession with them and has been duplicating their family photos for years, building a shrine to them in his home. What becomes apparent is Sy is not only socially awkward but is also craving to be part of a family. What we see of Seymour outside of work is a man without any human connection. Whenever he tries to reach out to establish this connection he does so clumsily and is rejected, most often by the Yorkin family.
Eventually, Sy sees an opening to extend beyond small talk when he spots that the mother, Nina Yorkin, played by Connie Nielsen (The Devil’s advocate, Gladiator) has purchased a book. Feigning knowledge of this book enables Sy to hold a deeper conversation with Nina and it is revealed that Sy lives a lonely and solitary life, his work being the only tangible evidence of his existence. The sole tether of Seymour’s life is ripped apart as he is called into the managers’ office and confronted about discrepancies between the number of photos printed and the number the store has been paid for. The manager tells Sy to finish up the week and not return.
The resultant fallout leads to Seymour struggling to find meaning now he no longer has his work to define his life. Further discoveries suggest that the Yorkin family isn’t as perfect as Sy imagined, causing a complete removal of sanity and reality as Seymour sets out to punish those that have wasted the gifts they have been given. As Seymour descends further into his delusions the viewer experiences the disturbing visuals that inhabit Sy’s mind and many of these scenes will be burned into the mind of the viewer.
The direction by Mark Romanek creates a stark and cold world around the characters but it is the captivating performance of Robin Williams which propels the story and invests the viewer so deeply. Such is the depth of Williams’ performance as Seymour Parrish, the viewer will be torn between the deepest of empathy for such a damaged and abused individual and horror caused by the characters’ tenuous and rapidly declining grip on reality.