Brazil

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #51: Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

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It’s been awhile since I’ve seen this film and this time it gave me the creepy crawlies. This is satire done right, and the fact that af­ter 20 years re­al­i­ty has near­ly caught up with its pre­science is what makes me feel so strange. Terry Gilliam is, as you might ex­pect, one of my fa­vorite di­rec­tors, and Brazil is re­gard­ed by many to be his finest work. This re­view is go­ing to be a turn­about from the last one [M. Hulot’s Holiday].

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Imagine your­self liv­ing in a world where the government’s on­ly con­cern is root­ing out ter­ror­ism, where bu­reau­cra­cy is so en­trenched that you can’t get pub­lic doc­u­ments un­less you fill out oth­er pa­per­work first, where peo­ple are im­pris­oned in­def­i­nite­ly for crimes they didn’t com­mit, tor­tured for in­for­ma­tion they don’t have — and then charged for the ser­vice. Quick, tell me what coun­try you’re in!

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Brazil is a movie about a place where the buck has been passed for so long that the fo­cus is now on get­ting some­one else stuck with it in­stead of re­solv­ing the is­sue. Brazil is a movie about a place where cor­po­rate con­for­mi­ty is ex­pect­ed, un­end­ing am­bi­tion to pow­er is a virtue, and con­tent­ment and imag­i­na­tion are things to be de­spised. Brazil is a movie about a place where no one does any sort of work that is pro­duc­tive; there is no goal but self-preser­va­tion in every as­pect of so­ci­ety. Information is the main com­mod­i­ty and its labyrinthine fun­nel­ing through bu­reau­crat­ic red tape is the main source of em­ploy­ment for those we see. Granted, there are a few out­siders who re­fuse to sign on the dot­ted line, and the­se are the ones con­sid­ered ter­ror­ists, be­cause they re­fuse to sup­port the pow­er struc­ture in all its ac­tions.

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Stuck as we are, square­ly in the mid­dle of an Information Age where most of the in­for­ma­tion is of no sub­stance and the sub­stan­tive in­for­ma­tion can­not be ac­cessed, Brazil is prophet­ic in hind­sight. Yet Gilliam was ob­vi­ous­ly in di­a­logue with events con­tem­po­rary to the mak­ing of his film. He con­sid­ered call­ing it 1984½ and its re­lease in 1985 seems to ful­fill that par­tic­u­lar in­tent.

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The satire doesn’t lim­it it­self to pol­i­tics and busi­ness, even the mo­ti­va­tions of pri­vate life are skew­ered by Gilliam and Tom Stoppard [who helped write the screen­play]. There are so few char­ac­ters with soul in the film that Sam Lowry’s in­de­fati­ga­bil­i­ty is no­table both for its ex­is­tence and per­sis­tence in the face of the face­less so­ci­ety [and moth­er] that has fos­tered him. His toil un­der the hands of Information Retrieval be­comes rife with Christological sym­bol­ism. His even­tu­al cata­to­nia is, func­tion­al­ly at least, as tran­scen­dent as Christ’s res­ur­rec­tion.

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Long ram­bler com­par­ing Brazil to cur­rent American lead­er­ship and pol­i­cy.
Rotten​.com ar­ti­cle on Gilliam and Brazil.
Brazil FAQ.
Interview with Gilliam.

One thought on “Brazil

  1. I watched this movie for the first time af­ter smok­ing a re­al­ly big joint. That was re­al­ly, re­al­ly stu­pid.

    I watched it again af­ter I’d quit with the pot. That, as well, was re­al­ly, re­al­ly stu­pid.

    Since I can’t re­al­ly com­ment in­tel­li­gent­ly on this movie (be­cause it makes me feel re­al­ly, re­al­ly stu­pid), I’ll just leave you with that per­son­al anec­dote.

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