Friday, August 12, 2011


Don't fight it son. Confess quickly! If you hold out too long you could jeopardize your credit rating.

Having some familiarity with Terry Gilliam's films, I knew I could expect his 1985 film Brazil to be outlandish and strange. But Gilliam took this film to a whole new level. Watching the film, I was perpetually confused and wondering just what on earth was going on. But, the movie actually does make a great deal of sense and is incredibly deserving of the outstanding reviews it has received over the years.

Satire, political and social commentary, futuristic warning--this film echoes George Orwell's 1984 in a great many ways, yet remains it's own creative force. In fact, Gilliam considered titling the film "1984 1/2," which would have been entirely appropriate as one of the most pervasive themes in Brazil is the ever-watchful entity of a "Big Brother" figure. We see our protagonist Sam struggling to maintain a grasp some independent identity while the omnipresent Ministry scrutinizes his every move. Sam's dreams represent the emotional and mental break from the suffocating society where humans are incredibly interconnected and linked to each other and the Ministry as though all of society is a single organic entity. There coexists an unreal level of Ministry control and civilian frivolity by those who care little about the involvement of the Ministry. But, for Sam, the presence and purpose of the Ministry is oppressive, the rules too stiff, and the amounts of paperwork too great.

Most frightening is the Department of Information Retrieval, the department guilty of the mistake that lands Sam in his strange journey--all because of a fly in a typewriter that caused Information Retrieval to retrieve Mr. Buttle rather than Mr. Tuttle, a suspected terrorist. The question of what this exactly this department and its purpose are persists through nearly the entire film. But, when Sam finds himself the primary focus of Information Retrieval, the terrifying truth is revealed, and ethical questions begin to abound. Further discussion would benefit from my revealing what it is, but I hesitate because I do not want to spoil this film for those who intend on viewing it. But, I will say that the Department of Information Retrieval is far from the simple, mundane department we first perceive it to be.

And one aspect that cannot be overlooked in any Gilliam film is the artistry. He manages to combine a 1980's feel with a highly futuristic environment. Tubes and pipes are so intertwined in the infrastructure of the city that they seem to be their own organic organisms--a separate living, breathing aspect of society subject to the same regulations (and paperwork) as the people. The surreal characters and qualities of Sam's dreams--or at one point his apparent reality--are exemplary creations of Gilliam's mind. Furthermore, the story of the film is told through Gilliam's artistic creations, from the monsters to the propaganda posters pasted to every surface. And, it is through these posters and other bizarre occurrences that we are witness to the absolute control and influence of the Ministry on the people.

The depth and complexity of the film makes it difficult to write about after only one viewing. Truly, I am not capable of saying much more than I have until I get the chance to view the film again. But, it is an outstanding film that I grow to appreciate to a greater extend the more I think about it. It is a film that I hope to have the opportunity to see again so that I may see Brazil for what it truly is and understand the even the most undetectable details. Gilliam is a master at creating levels of depth and meaning in his films, and Brazil is perhaps the perfect example of that.