Brazil (1985): A Brilliant Surrealist Dystopian Satire of Bureaucracy

Brazil Poster

We continue Revolution Week with a film that has after today become a favorite…”Brazil.” Terry Gilliam is truly a master of surrealism and satire as well as creating films with so many intricacies and layers. It is easy to relate this film to revolution because it represents everything being rebelled against. It is a static world but the characters are not static. There is a fight change things and characters change as they are put through trials both figurative and real.

This was my second time seeing the film. First time I just didn’t get it. It was wierd, tonally inconsistent and too long I felt like. After a second time seeing it, since last time I saw it was in college, my views have changed. Some of those issues still stand but there are a hell of a lot more ways how it is brilliant and works.

The film was directed by Terry Gilliam who also was one of the writers. The other writers of the screenplay were Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown. The film was produced by Arnon Milchan.

The premise is that Sam Lowry (Jonathan Price) is a low level government employee fantasizing about being free in fantasy dream who is pulled into events that soon change him though as he has to rectify an error that occurred that led to the government executing an innocent man. From here the story unfolds as the revolutionary Harry Tuttle (Robert De Niro) (the man supposed to have been killed) uses his home as a base and Buttle’s neighbor Jill Layton (Kim Greist) seeks justice for what the government did.

The Pros: The World – The World is a surrealist representation of our own. With old ladies getting face lifts, government bureaucracy where papers rain down from the walls and a faceless police force breaking into homes…all over a consumer driven society obsessed with wealth. It is a brilliant exaggeration of the problems in our own and satire at it’s finest.

The Government – The government in this world cares more about the “Right way” to do things and the documents to sign and agencies to visit rather than people. We see this in how Jill is unable to get the right documents to get money for the Buttles or to hold anyone accountable. The government is all about personal connections too, since Sam’s Mom knows someone higher up Sam is able to get the promotion into Information Retrieval which helps him to save Jill when he learns Information Retrieval via his “friend” Jack is targeting all those connected to the government mistake.

The Rebels – Tuttle is our greatest glimpse of the rebels and they like society are mad. They do small things and also big things like setting off bombs in public places. They are also human too, as witnessed by Tuttle being one of the few people who actually treats Sam like a human being. They do have issues though, all the attacks we see happen in public places and is largely innocents killed, which is probably why the government is still in power. In order to have a successful revolution you have to win the heart of enough of the people.

Jack – Jack is the torturer and assassin for the government and was the one who killed Buttle and is now killing everyone attached to him. Everyone knows what he does too as his daughter is in the room with him where he had a doctor’s outfit covered in blood. He is a family man and does try and protect people he must care about to some degree, but he is also a cog and disconnects himself by wearing a baby mask when he tortures people and forcing them to not see him as a person.

Harry Tuttle – Harry is the revolutionary and the one who saves Sam at one point. To Sam he represents freedom and letting go of all he was attached to that was crushing him in his work (“Fight Club” style) but is also a real human being as we see him interact with people beyond Sam. He connects to those who help him but clearly doesn’t care about the masses. He is selfish in that he is mostly looking after himself, even if he is fighting the system. De Niro is fantastic.

Jill Layton – Jill is the activist and goes through all levels of government to try and get justice for Buttle. She doesn’t succeed but ends up finding an ally in Sam who she at first hates but later when she learns he was right about the injustice of the government joins with him as they are both on the run. She is killed when Sam is captured sadly. Kim Greist does a good job.

Sam Lowry – This is the best role I’ve seen Jonathan Price in. He plays the government worker just trying to live day to day by living in a fantasy half the time, to the fugitive and also the rebel to some degree as he holds out against in the torture in his mind and doesn’t give in or reveal Buttle to Jack and the government. The price is he goes mad and lives in his fantasy, which gives him a very bittersweet end…considering this could have gone “1984” and turned him into someone who is all about the government and right way to do things…as he was at the beginning of the film.

The Dream – There are two dreams. The dream where Sam is saving Jill from an enemy, in one it’s a Giant Samurai…and one where he is rescued by Tuttle who he destroys the government building with. He later ends up at his Mom’s friend’s funeral, is hunted by the government and watches Tuttle be devoured by government documents before he is rescued by Jill. This is his ending after his mind breaks.

The Message – The message is in the satire. Obsessing over things like wealth, body and items make it easy for a corrupt, inept and controlling system to take control. This makes sense as people in a state of complacency don’t care. The message of the film is to wake up and do something that matters. Try to change things and notice the problems in the systems around you. It is a powerful and great message.

Okay: The Cogs of the Machine – Most of the government employees don’t feel like real people. Besides Jack, none of them felt fully fleshed out. They were just that, cogs which may have been the point but it’s why I can’t put them as a pro.

The Everyday People – The everyday people are the same way. We see glimpses of connections and life, such as the family celebrating Christmas together before the government arrives to arrest the father…but beyond that we don’t really get to know the people beyond Jill and Harry.

The Cons: Confusion – The dream sequence at the end was a bit confusing until the reveal, and there were parts in the middle that were the same way too. This limited the power of the message in my opinion.

Too Long at Times – There were times the film dragged…for example some of the dream sequences that Sam has with enemies like the Giant Samurai and others were cool, but they really did go on for too long.

This isn’t my favorite Terry Gililam film, that is still “The Fisher King,” but this one is truly amazing and a well deserved Cult Classic. It satirizes problems relevant to our time and does a call to action in the process, which is really the basis for the act of revolt and revolution. Revolutions are about facing a problem and through struggle seeking to change it. This movie is how one person failed at that and how sometimes the means can be truly bad as well. Suffice to say, I recommend this film.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great, even with the problems I have with it.

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The Fisher King (1991): A Surrealist Fantasy Romance of Healing

fisherking

Terry Gilliam is a director whose style has slowly grown on me over time. My introduction to him was through a friend when he showed me “Brazil” a movie that now since I have a great appreciation for his style and storytelling, plan on seeing (and this time reviewing) again.

This is also a film starring two of my favorite actors. Jeff Bridges who is the master of drama and playing a wide array of roles, and Robin Williams…who I’ll be honoring in more of my reviews. He really needs no introduction and in this movie he captures both the manic humor and the intense loss and drama beautifully. I will get into the details in the assessment.

“The Fisher King” was directed by Terry Gilliam and was written by Richard LaGravenese.

The story revolves around Jack (Jeff Bridges) who is a shock jock on the radio who inspires a man to do a mass killing. After a falling off the map for a while Jack is pulled back into the world through his interactions with Parry (Robin Williams) a man who has created a fantasy world to deal with the fact that his wife was killed by the man Jack inspired. From here story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – There are a lot of great visuals in this movie. From the Red Knight who is Jack and Perry’s demons given form, to the boiler room that Parry is living in where he talks to the little people. The world feels gritty and fantastical and it is here the good as, as everytime it goes real world (mostly corporate) you see how people don’t care and how everything is metaphorically dead in how black and bare everything is. The visuals of the Red Knight as a devil figure are amazing too. The knight is large, breathes fire and has a horse that does the same. The killer also makes an appearance too, both in the flashback, in Jack’s mind when he is getting the Grail and his agent is made to look like the killer.

The Writing – LaGravenese did a great job writing this. He captures the characters so starkly. Each of them feels real and none of them are prefect. They are all contradictions in their own ways (the selfish and selflessness of all of them at different parts). Which makes it really enjoyable to listen to as well as watch.

The Symbolism – The symbolism is in the story of the title. The Fisher King is a grail legend with a few variations. The one that Parry tells in the film is of a King who was asked to protect the grail. He is than wounded by the sin of pride and he says he is thirsty. When the Fool gives him his cup he realizes it is the grail and that none of his heroes could find it, but the fool only gave it to him because he was thirsty. This applies mostly to Jack whose pride blinds him from Anne’s and Parry’s love which allow him to heal and get out of the environment that fed his selfish instincts. He learns to let go of pride and Parry is the fool who gives him the water from the grail.

This is also in how a child gives him a Pinocchio doll and how both he and Parry becomes real people over the course of the film and beyond the doll state of their selfishness (Jack) and denial (Parry).

The Characters

Parry – Robin Williams is fantastic in this role. Parry is a man who has created a fantasy world (he is a Knight seeking the Holy Grail for the Little People and God) to live with the loss of his wife and her murder right before his eyes. You get glimpses of that night when he is beginning to find happiness and the demons in the form of the Red Knight return. He also became broken as he stalks a women and never really faces the actions from that since she falls in love and is flattered by everything he knows about her (What?). His arc is still really good though, and he never is able to deal with his past identity but he is able to finally morn what happened that night when he experiences it as a dream after Jeff gets the Holy Grail for him.

Jack – Jeff Bridges does an amazing job as the man seeking redemption. He knows that his selfishness and looking down on others inspired a monster, so doesn’t allow himself to feel love or connection to anyone. It takes Parry saving his life in order for him to begin to change, and it takes the loss of Parry (when Parry gets attacked by his demons, thugs and goes catatonic) that he is finally able to admit his love for his girlfriend Anne and leaving the industry after he breaks into a millionaires castle to steal a grail for Perry.

Anne – Mercedes Ruehl plays the only character who holds Jack accountable, and she does a good job. I wish we’d seen more of the reasons that she loves Jack though, considering he does take her for granted in most of the scenes until the end (with exceptions here and there). She is the one who supports him with Parry getting together with Lydia.

Lydia – Lydia is awkward and clumsy, much like Parry. They also are very alone and don’t know how to connect with people. It takes Anne and Jack to help them do so. Lydia learns that she can have a mean personality and is able to face her inadequacy of fear of being used by Jack and ends up taking care of him when he goes catatonic. She is a great character who could have only been a plot device. Thank God, she was not and actually grew over the course of the movie. Her sparring with Lydia was fantastic as she is pretty cheap and Lydia is a business owner. She was played by Amanda Plummer.

The Homeless Cabaret Singer – This is a bit part that is played by Michael Jeter, and he does great. He sings a song for Lydia for her to pick up her reward at Anne’s movie shop as part Jack and her’s plot to hook her up with Parry and it is his heart and soul that help open Jack up. Jeter is wonderful in this role and I wish he’d gotten more scenes.

John De Lancie – He appears as a corporate big wig wanting to make tv show mocking the homeless as them living in a fantasy world, which is the final straw that wakes Jack up. He is good at playing the selfish git in the few scenes he has.

Cons: Parry’s Stalking of Lydia – I don’t get why this wasn’t shown to be a bad thing in the film. I get that Parry’s gone through trauma but that doesn’t justify stalking, nothing does. i wish Gilliam and shown this is bad rather than rewarding it by her seeing that as love. What is this “Twilight?”

Would I recommend this film? Yes, it makes me want to see more Terry Gilliam and is a favorite. Minus the fact that Parry’s stalking of Lydia is never seen as bad, he is good at helping people see the good in themselves and his fantasy world and visions enrich the film as his and Jack’s demons are given form in the forever stalking Red Knight. I highly recommend this film.

Final Score is 9 / 10