Terry Gilliam’s Brazil

As a huge Terry Gilliam fan I’m embarrassed to say that I only saw his most celebrated film, Brazil, for the first time a few nights ago. I guess with some filmmakers we just unconsciously save the best for last in their canon? Anyways, thoughts: There are two visual aesthetics here that struck me, existing in a cacophonous plane of many sights, sounds, colours and spectacle. On the one hand you have the angular, grey, needlessly cluttered and perpetually chaotic business style world of the future, packed with asinine bureaucratic incident, excessive consumerism and, uh, a whole fucking shit load of ducts, snaking hither and thither to seemingly represent the kind of mental fog and psychological stress that living in a city choking on its own infrastructure might afflict one with. That is is the world for Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), a put-upon peon of big business stuck in en endless, mad-dash hamster wheel of empty procedural diarrhea.

But there is another world for Sam, and another aesthetic for the film too. It shows up in periodic dream sequences and couldn’t be more different than his waking existence. Here he is free amongst an endless sea of clouds that promise freedom, gifted with Da Vinci esque winged contraptions and left to soar around the blessed blue. Here a beautiful goddess (Kim Griest) beams out at him from a veil of heavenly gauze like the Venus De Milo or any number of girls from a Renaissance painting. Unfortunately this dream world is just that: a phantasmic apparition not of his waking life, until he begins to see the girl from that realm in the real world, driving a hilariously oversized big rig truck no less.

It’s at that point that Sam’s world begins to get dangerous for him, the blurring of lines between fantasy and reality as well as this good natured desire to rectify the world’s most cataclysmic clerical error (that damn fly), seeing him go from mild mannered cog in the machine proverbial fly in the ointment, the stick which unknowingly lodges itself in the gears of the system and causes a hysterical meltdown. Along the way he meets many others including an opportunist colleague (Gilliam regular Michael Palin), his plastic surgery addicted mommy (Katherine Helmond), a shady corporate maintenance man (Bob Hoskins, looking more like Super Mario here than he did in the *actual* Super Mario film), his hyper anxious supervisor (Ian Holm) and a renegade duct repairman played by Robert DeNiro in a sly turn of antiestablishment derring do. So, overall? Folks are right for dubbing this Gilliam’s masterpiece, and while my heart will always call his 12 Monkeys my personal favourite, I just can’t argue that this isn’t his best film overall. It’s a sprawling canvas of ideas, nightmarish imagery, hope for escape that keeps getting quashed and reignited with each narrative beat, rib jabbing dark humour that calls Python to mind, jaw dropping production design and the kind of story that draws you right into this topsy-turvy realm. Sam exists in two worlds, as does the film, and the haunting fun is in seeing them crash, collide and each vie for presidency over one soul. Absolutely brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

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