Skip to main content

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #83: Brazil

Dystopian movies from the 1980s are a funny thing since we now live in the future of those movies and if you look at the news for more than five minutes it will feel as though we are one bad day away from being into a dystopia. On the plus side, if it ends up looking like the dystopia portrayed in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) at least we will have lovely architecture to look at while the government is busy telling us how to think. This might not be a movie that will cheer you up, but the production design is amazing, the performances are great throughout, and you get to see Robert DeNiro play a maintenance man/freedom fighter.  

I first saw Brazil as a Terry Gilliam double feature at the Universit√© de Sherbrooke’s movie club paired along with 12 Monkeys around ten years ago. Those two films are similar in that they both feature a rather dour future and, as with most Gilliam movies, incredibly intricate sets. However the dystopian future in Brazil is somewhat scarier than the disease-ravaged world of 12 Monkeys, since in Brazil a totalitarian government uses inept bureaucracy and torture to get things done. Sound familiar? Then of course there is the ending of Brazil, which I remember caught me and the other viewers by surprise with its uncompromising dourness.

There are many hints of George Orwell’s 1984 in the non-descript world Gilliam has created. It could be somewhere in America or England given the mixture of British and American characters, but either way it is a world filled with towering buildings, surgery-obsessed rich people, and a bureaucracy so flawed a man is tortured and killed because of a typing error. It is a scary world, but even by today’s standards the special effects are so astounding you can’t take your eyes off the screen. One thing that can be said about Gilliam is that the man likes to think big. A torture chamber could be set in just, well, a chamber. He sets it in a huge cylindrical room that is actually the interior of a power station cooling tower.

Within this world lives a dreamer named Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce). Sam is focused with just doing his menial government job in a room filled with other people who seem to be doing exactly the same task. Yet at night he has fantastic dreams of being a great knight in shining armour with wings who rescues a beautiful lady. Much to his astonishment, this lady (Kim Greist) exists in his waking life and has a name, Jill Layton. Could dreams literally come true?

Unfortunately Jill becomes a target of the oppressive government when she uncovers an embarrassing bureaucratic error, so Sam tries to become the knight in shining armour he dreams of being, and finds an ally with Archibald Tuttle (De Niro), a maintenance man who became a terrorist when he became fed up with government paperwork. However Jill proves to be elusive since unlike Sam she has never dreamed about him and is too busy fighting her own fights to deal with a complete stranger who tells her he’s in love. It is so nice to see a female character who is reliant enough to rescue herself.


As mentioned the ending to this dystopian love story sends quite a shock to the system, but that does not mean Brazil should be avoided. It is in fact absolutely worth seeing for Jonathan Pryce’s performance as the would-be-hero Sam, Robert De Niro as the most entertaining terrorist you will ever see, and Michael Palin as the world’s friendliest torturer. Given the current rise in far-right politics across the globe and the fact 1984 is once again a best seller, Brazil is worth a re-watch for anyone who feels overwhelmed by current events. Like Tuttle said, “We’re all in this together.”  

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #85: Blue Velvet

Exactly how do you describe a David Lynch movie? He is one of the few directors whose style is so distinctive that his last name has become an adjective. According to Urban Dictionary, the definition of Lynchian is: “having the same balance between the macabre and the mundane found in the works of filmmaker David Lynch.” To see a prime example of that adjective film lovers need look no further than Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), which does indeed begin in the mundane before slowly sinking in macabre violence.
My first introduction to the world of David Lynch was through his ground breaking, but unfortunately interrupted, early 1990s TV series Twin Peaks. This was one of the first television shows to grab viewers with a series-long mystery: who killed Laura Palmer? A mix of soap opera, police procedural, and the supernatural, it is a unique show that showed the darkness hidden in suburbia and remains influential to this day. Featuring Kyle MacLachlan as an FBI investigator with a love for …