Sunday, October 5, 2014

Movie Review #34: Brazil

There's this cool theater in Tuscon called The Loft, which is an independently-run theater that shows primarily limited-release films, art house films, and movies with very specific audiences.

They also like playing old movies, and often show cult classic films at night. It's really cool to be able to see movies in a theater setting long after that chance seems to have passed.

So, last night Laura and I went to see the Terry Gilliam classic Brazil. Short review: this movie hits every note powerfully. It's consistently funny, even when it's terrifying, strange, or outright depressing. If you want to see something you've never seen before, something unapologetically beautiful and dark is a way that Tim Burton can only dream of, the you should maybe see Brazil.


In a dystopian present day, Sam Lowry works at the Ministry of Information, a government agency designed to gather information on every person and every activity at all times. After a typrographical error causes a man to get wrongfully arrested, Sam from the Information Records Department gets embroiled in an assumed conspiracy after literally seeing the girl from his dreams.

So, Sam proceeds to break free from his gray, little life of paperwork and bureaucracy.


I think Brazil tops Die Hard as the greatest Christmas movie of all time.

It's a movie about imagination and its power to help us escape the harshness of reality,and it illustrates this point by creating the harshest reality it can muster. In a plot I'd describe as a sort of mix between 1984, Scott Pilgrim, and Suckerpunch, Sam's imagination is at times the thing that keeps him going, gets him into trouble, and in the end proves to be his salvation, in a sense.

The dystopian setting is one where suspicion against everyone is encouraged, ostensibly to (unsuccessfully) help the government battle terrorist attacks. The "terrorists" are constantly setting off bombs all over the city, and it's to the point where most people hardly even pay them any attention. Terrorist bombings are about as curious as traffic accidents, and paid just as little attention.

The people of the setting are far less concerned about others and more concerned about themselves. They are often petty and shallow, to the point that by the end, when Sam is about to be tortured by his old friend Jack, Jack is far more concerned about how torturing his friend will affect his own life than he is about how it will affect Sam's. Taken out of context it seems extreme, but in the context of the movie it fits with the personality of the character.

It's hard to say what's more surreal: the reality of what's going on in Sam's life or the things going on in his dreams. His dreams are terrifying in many ways, but no moreso than what he's facing in real life. Caught in a machine over which he has no control nor the patience to accomplish things in that world of bureaucracy, he feels the need to do something. In the end, though, he turns out to be both too smart and too naive for his own good, since as soon as he sees evidence of another way to live, his imagination takes off and leads him to tragedy.

Terry Gilliam has a powerful understanding of film, and the writing is right on the nose. I don't think anybody else could have gotten away with this movie. I highly recommend it. I can't guarantee that you'll enjoy it, but it will be a fascinating experience.

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