Contributor: Rick McGimpsey
Terry Gilliam is an extremely talented director who has masterfully succeeded at making films that go against conventional norms; giving us bizarre plots, odd dark comedy, and brutal satire that all come together in some of the most memorable films in cinema history. Some are ridiculously goofy like Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Some are brilliantly conceived like 12 Monkeys. And some are dark, frightening, and unsettling like his often misunderstood Tideland.
But of all his films, I think my favourite is Brazil. It combines all of the traditional Gilliam-esque elements such as dark socio-political satire, weird humour, insane visuals, and overall oddness treated with complete seriousness that make his films unique.
Brazil is set in a dystopic future England where materialism and mass-consumerism are the primary focus of its dull, joyless inhabitants. Any snippet of beauty, taste, love, and desire for meaning is easily swept away in this world where death and poverty are an inconvenience, money, looks, and property are life itself; and consumerism is regarded with near-religious reverence (we even see a group of people carrying signs saying “Consumers For Christ” in one scene). This world in its long effort for convenience and pleasure has ceased to exist with purpose or meaning.
What sets this film different from most dystopic science fiction stories is that it does not focus on the revolutionaries, the resistance, or the cruel governments and political arena. The plot of this story directs itself toward the dullest corner of the world: the paperwork. The most we learn about this future depicted in the film is from clerks, bureaucrats, and desk-employees. No epic battles for freedom, rebel alliances, or evil dictators are too be found in Brazil.
Brazil centres around an office worker who is sent to deliver an official “apology” to a widow whose husband was killed by the government when his name mistakenly came up in a political dissidents list thanks to a clerical error. When he goes to give the poor woman a waiver to sign he spots a young lady from the upstairs apartment who bears an uncanny resemblance to a woman from his daydreams. In these bizarre fantasies he is a winged hero fighting evil beings and rescuing a recurring beautiful lady from danger winning her heart in the process. Seeing the girl of his dreams (literally) existing in real life leads him try to track her down, find her, and declare his love for her. Unfortunately this search leads him on a dangerous quixotic venture that inevitably leads him to go down in favour of the government and put his career and life in danger.
What I love about this film is how it uses the absurdest of plots to convey a satiric world with such sharp, poignant criticism of materialism that you almost wonder if such a world could exist. We see human beings rendered into mindless consumers with no emotion or sense of moral conscience leaving a bizarre tale that is resounding in its truth.
The visuals and cinematography are, notably, also well-done and leaves the viewer impressed with what a filmmaker can do when creating fictional places without CGI.
I highly recommend Brazil for those who like good dystopic fiction with a dash of humour.