HOLLYWOOD – In the latest in our series of 47 Films You Have to See Before You Are Murdered in Your Dreams, we look at Terry Gilliam’s suitably nutty Brazil.
Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is an unambitious man working his humdrum job in records, dealing with a fully automated home where everything malfunctions and living happily enough in a society plagued terrorist attacks and an authoritarian regime that suppresses all freedom. Like Hamlet, he would be happy ‘were it not that I have bad dreams’. Okay. Sam’s dreams are a Mitty like escape from the fearful drudgery that surrounds him. He is a winged knight forever rescuing the fair maiden, but it is this which will get him in so much trouble when he meets his fantasy in the form of real life trucker Jill (Kim Greist). This leads him to accept the promotion his mother (Katherine Helmond) has finagled to Information Retrieval.
Brazil presents perhaps the most successful cinematic version of George Orwell’s 1984 – there are several direct references in the film. However, Gilliam’s dystopia is not only oppressive by design but arbitrarily incompetent. The whole course of events starts with a typo, the ghost in the machine is a squashed fly. The ludicrous – rogue plumbers who actually fix things on time are considered terrorists, socialites compete on who can have the most radical plastic surgery – mix with the horrifying. There’s something dreadful in Sam’s fate as he is essentially a little boy, cosseted by his mother and who has never questioned the world in which he lives, as he races whooping towards a confrontation with forces he doesn’t understand. Pryce is perfect in the role. And the cameos are all pitch perfect grotesques. Gilliam’s fellow Python, Michael Palin is excellent as Sam’s cheery peer, a friendly torturer who is as much fascinated by office politics as he is committed to his own gruesome efficiency; Bob Hoskins as Spoor, the government plumber and Robert de Niro as Tuttle, the rogue plumber.
Gilliam’s visual sense creates a detailed and visually striking world, the creaking 1940s technology of tubes and ducts. Tom Stopard co-screenwriter is on hand to give the same detail to the language of euphemism and coercion that dominates the film. Or the deputy minister Helpman (Peter Vaughn) with his endless supply of sporting metaphors. Read the posters in the background – ‘Don’t Suspect a Friend, Report Him!’
Brazil was Gilliam’s masterpiece and the troubles he had making the film and getting it distributed set him on a trajectory of awkwardness for years to come, but frankly it was worth it.
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