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A film by Terry Gilliam that depicts a bizarre, totalitarian future.

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A complication that has a complication

  • Mar 9, 2009
Pros: Themes, imagery, very engaging set/scenery. 

Cons: Acting is weak.  Story will be too esoteric for many.

The Bottom Line: Terry Gilliam and Tom Stoppard are masters of the absurd "limits" of humanity.  Brazil is what happens when they get together.  Yea for some, nay for many (unfortunately).

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot.

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is not for everyone; let’s face it, the more esoteric something is the fewer people will be entertained by it.  I’ve never seen a study but I think it’s safe to say that the relationship to bizarreness and audience is almost inversely proportional.

Mine is essentially the 50th review of the film.  However, there are a subset of movies, plays, books, pieces of music, anything with a plot or at least a narrator/narrative that can withstand scores of views. They inspire a sort of nagging confusion that is just soft enough to puzzle over it rather than being just too harsh enough to make it totally frustrating and ultimately meaningless.  Brazil fits this self described genre.

Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) lives in an overcrowded, undefined area that has been under assault from terrorists for 13 years.  Sam is content in his low-level job in the Records Department in the heavily bureaucratic Ministry of Information.  His cosmetic surgery fiend of a mother, Ida (Katherine Helmond) is influential and keeps getting the Minister to promote her son, each one he turns down until . . .

Sam dreams of being a sort of angelic knight who’s in love with a gossamer surrounded lady and, as any angelic knight would, he does all he can to defend her from all manner of hazards.

Sam accidentally runs into the lady’s body-double in the form of a rough blue-collar woman, Jill (Kim Greist).  She is making inquiries about a neighbor who had been arrested by mistake—a computer glitch.  Sam knows the only way to get the information he wants is to accept the promotion to Information Retrieval (the top security posts).

From here the film moves from what was often just a comedy of errors to some seriously dark satire.

That’s the plot.  The last fifteen minutes are overflowing with speed and stimulation that if I say anymore . . .

This review relies on the Criterion release of the “final cut” of the film.  The original release was half an hour shorter.  The Criterion release is far darker than the original and makes a little more sense—I say a little because the final cut is still so strange that it requires enormous amounts of attention.  I believe that Brazil as Mr. Gilliam wanted it is worth the effort.

The original title for it was 1984 ½ so it is pretty obvious that the Ministry of Information is the Ministry of Truth from Orwell’s horrific classic 1984.  There are, also, obvious connections to recent events, and ongoing events within much of the West but America primarily.  There is always a Big Brother (the “man” who watched/monitored the lives of everyone in “Oceania” under a constant threat from essentially unseen enemies) sense in government, so while current events (2002-2009 so far) seem to make the film more relevant, they are just the latest of many like them over the 2 plus decades since the release of the film.

The screen play was written by Tom Stoppard whose brilliance for satire and use of the absurd creates a vicious and droll world.  The film is somewhat funny but not laugh out loud funny at any point.  The best example I have of this is that the Ministry of Information requires the people arrested pay for their own interrogation.  This is, perhaps, hysterical out of context; inside it reinforces the deep oppression.

In Orwell’s world, paper was limited because men like Winston Smith were re-writing history by taking words out or changing their meaning in a way to limit the language, the more, unedited, paper the harder to control.  Like it or not, the Big Brother idea of removing words and changing meaning made controlling people easier.  Sam’s world is the total opposite.  In his world, paperwork drives nearly every aspect of life.  Paper.  Computers aside (and they are made out to be very finicky), his world becomes uncontrollable because paper takes so long to do anything.  Winston’s world is one of control by dictate; Sam’s is a world attempting to control by confusion.

The film carries a perfect braiding of images to support this.  Ida uses one technique of cosmetic surgery (a slightly grosser version that we have used for decades), and Ms. Alma Terrain whose option is “acid” based.   Ida’s surgery makes her younger and younger until she is younger looking than her son.  Alma’s treatments leave her wrapped in more and more gauze.  Ida’s going back in time is absurd.  Alma’s deterioration into goo is darkly awful.  To me, she is the person who says the line summing up her situation in specific but the entire theme of the film: “My complication had a complication.”

One final word.  Mr. Gilliam is a Rube Goldberg making enormously complicated sets that are as often as not, pretty.  The problem, were I a set designer or engineer, is that so much of these sets of all levels of attraction are blown totally apart.  However, whatever lunatics he hires know how to build something that looks totally real and to scale and yet know that their beautiful work will last for only a few minutes.  Maybe they are the Buddhist monks who make the beautiful mandalas  that can take weeks to finish but who know when it is finished, the colored sand will be wiped into a bag and dumped in the nearest body of water.  I think I would be suicidal.


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More Brazil (movie) reviews
review by . September 16, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
**** out of ****    Apparently, some people actually doubt the genius of Terry Gilliam. Here we have one of the most obviously imaginative minds working in the film industry of today and yesteryear, and people literally have the nerve to challenge his brilliance. Maybe they find themselves turned off by what he's been directing recently (which really isn't all that bad, with the exception of the tedious and boring "Tideland"), although that alone shouldn't be good enough reason …
Quick Tip by . October 07, 2010
posted in Cult Cinema
The 4 rating is for the director's cut, not the original release. The original release rates at a -2.
Quick Tip by . January 24, 2010
A delightfully weird vision of a totalitarian Britain, in which a government employee falls in love with a trash removal woman. Hilarious!
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Paul Savage ()
Ranked #29
I name and describe everything and classify most things. If 'it' already had a name, the one I just gave it is better.
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