Brazil (1985), directed by Terry Gilliam (b. November 22, 1940), screenplay by Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, and Charles McKeown, provides a dark, satirical glimpse into now. It shows an unnerving vision of the WW2 Zeitgeist melded into a slightly futuristic present. The results are comical, scary, and odd, which is exactly what one might expect from Gilliam, former Monty Python cartoonist.
Retro meets near future: we see translucent flat screen computers hooked up to manual typewriter keyboards and weird tubing. Ducts and tubes are everywhere, in fact, a testament to our dependency on technology, much of it strange and unreliable. From Nazi Germany, we have the Ministry of Information, men with Hitler-like mustaches, men wearing Fedoras and trench coats or monocles, storm troopers, secret police, pneumonic tubes, Lugers, and 9mm Schmeisser submachine guns. There are propaganda elements tweaked from wartime Britain (“We’re all in this together”), as well.
From now, we have the internet, online banking, cosmetic plastic surgery and its attendant disasters, ubiquitous but always interrupted, malfunctioning, or failing technology, electricity outages, an inept but sinister government and corporate “bureaucrazy” that rarely accepts blame for its many mistakes, and a shadowy terrorist/freedom fighter conflict with bombs going off randomly. Those who populate this world are mad as hatters, for the most part, almost as if they are under mass hypnosis, with occasional flashes of clarity. Set during the Christmas season, gifts and body image are the rage. Jim Broadbent does a subtle good job as a deranged plastic surgeon exploiting women who are as anxious about their looks as anyone living in contemporary America.
The terror campaign is ignored by “regular people” as much as possible. Few people question the bizarre status quo. The government’s campaign against terror includes surprise shock assault tactics -- battering doors in, blasting through ceilings and swooping in to round up people for torture, covering them with frightening sacks exactly like images from Abu Ghraib and Gitmo. The thirteen-year terror war is off-handedly dismissed as “beginner’s luck.”
Brazil is a work of weird genius! The only thing I don’t like is the character Jill Layton as played by Kim Greist. Jonathan Pryce is serviceable as Sam Lowry, an everyman/nobody; Robert De Niro has an odd role as rogue repairman and apparent terrorist/freedom fighter. Katherine Helmond is good as image-obsessed Ida Lowry (Sam’s mother). Michael Palin is perfect as a compartmentalized family man, Dad, and government torturer. Ian Holme and Bob Hoskins are good, too, in lesser roles.
The Criterion Collection includes a lot of extras. The version I saw at the theater has been slightly expanded for the primary DVD, called the ultimate cut. Also included are the notoriously recut for TV “love conquers all” version, documentaries on the making of and battle over Brazil's "final" cut and release, and commentary.
Brazil includes elements of: 1984, Brave New World, You Only Live Twice, The Lathe of Heaven, Blade Runner, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Myth of Icarus, The Myth of Sisyphus, Batman, Kafka, Dada, Surrealism, and a whole lot more.
Redux note: This is a slightly condensed version of a post originally published in 2006.
Today's rune: Flow.