Apr 25, 2014

[Movies] Brazil (1985)

We know Wes Anderson's movies for being light, whimsical and with an affinity for warmer color tones. In contrast, Terry Gilliam movies tend to involve a certain degree of darkness - of imagery that is meant to amuse and disturb at the same time. He was part of the visionary team that gave the world the mad brilliance of Monty Python. And his contributions to the world of film over the years have included some rather colorful and downright bizarre stories.

Enter Brazil, a great Terry Gilliam work that was a hit in Europe but was received rather poorly in the US. And I suppose I can understand why - the plot isn't perfectly linear at times and it's hard to determine who you really want to root for among the characters.

Now I have to admit that it took me a while before I decided I was ready to venture into this particular Gilliam dystopia. I had actually watched The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus before I watched Brazil. But I don't regret taking the dive down into this particular rabbit hole. And it's a head trip every science fiction fan should venture into at least once.


Synopsis: Brazil is a 1985 satirical dystopian movie written and directed by Terry Gilliam. Other screenplay writers included Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown.

At the center of the movie is Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), a low-level government employee with rather big dreams. Or perhaps more elaborate than big given they tend to involve his high fantasy world where he goes on to save some damsel in distress type of character. We then follow his mundane life in a strangely consumer-driven dystopian world. His first assignment is to find a way to address an error in executions due to a fly getting jammed in the printer and changing the name of the person sentenced to die.

But when he visits the grieving widow, he comes across Jill Layton (Kim Greist), the upstairs neighbor. She shouldn't have mattered in any way - except for the fact that she looks exactly like the damsel that he has been saving in his dreams night after night. She was the one who filed the paperwork to complain about the erroneous execution - something the government isn't willing to admit. And soon his involvement with Jill as he tries to figure out why she has been appearing in her dreams.

Brazil is literally dark - as in the overall lighting tone isn't exactly sunshine and roses. And this perfectly captures the feeling of a life trapped between an oppressive government and some trumped up consumerist driven society. In this regard, you realize that a lot of the visuals of the movie have meaning and on the whole Gilliam has a very strong satirical message that he wants to convey, and he uses nearly every part of the movie to do so.

This is a world where Robert De Niro plays a character who is both a criminal on the run from the government and yet potentially a freedom fighter. Jill herself is a complex character who could just be a random coincidence or some greater key to another aspect in Sam's life. All these diverse elements don't necessarily make the movie any easier to understand, but they certainly enrich the narrative and make things all the more interesting, to say the least.

Not just because the movie is a satire doesn't necessarily mean it's a comedy - I think people still confuse that concept for one reason or another. The movie takes an absurdist narrative approach to telling this particular story in order to ensure the point gets across one reason or another. And while it's not quite the oppressive world of George Orwell's 1984, it certainly comes close enough to drive the point home.

Until now it's hard for me to say whether I truly "liked" the movie. I think the better word for it is "respect" - this is a movie that you struggle to understand but appreciate with open arms. It's hard to put into words, but his movie impresses me in terms of how the seemingly random assault of images and sequences all come together to deliver a strong message. It's still entertaining, but it is also compelling and fulfilling.

Brazil is a different kind of science fiction adventure, one whose sensibilities may not work for everyone. But when you do take the time to understand things, you will come to better appreciate what was accomplished here. Thus the movie gets 4.5 dreams within dreams out of a possible 5.


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