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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Stardust (2007): A Fairy Tale of Love

Stardust

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors, Neverwhere, American Gods and Anansi Boys and the Sandman Series are some of my all time favorite fantasy works which makes me somewhat worried by their eventual screen adaptation in film or television form. This film gave me hope that it can be pulled off well though, and this film made me want to read the book that it is adapted from.

“Stardust” was directed by Matthew Vaughn who was also one of the producers and screenplay writers. The other producers were Neil Gaiman, Michael Dreyer and Lorenzo di Bonaventura. The other screenplay writer was Jane Goldman. The fact that Neil Gaiman had a producer credit on an adaptation of his work was a good sign going in to the film.

“Stardust” is the story of two worlds a village called Wall in our world and the magical kingdom of Stormhold that is separated from the wall. The story begins with Dunstan Thorn crossing the wall because he is curious and meeting an imprisoned beautiful woman he shared a night with. Later a child Dunstan names Tristan is left at the wall and the story follows from him  and his journey to learn how to love and in the process discover the heritage of the world he is a part of when he crosses the Wall to catch a falling star for Victoria, the woman he is infatuated with. Around this time the King of Stormhold has died and competition to catch the falling star is on as a Coven of Witches also joins the hunt since a Star’s heart can grant eternal youth and life.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Narrator – Ian McKellen narrates the beginning and end of the story giving it a fairy tale feel and his voice is super memorable and worked wonderfully. I also would have been down with Patrick Stewart being the narrator too, but it was McKellen and he is great!

Cinematography – The Cinematography is amazing and really captures the fantasy feel, the best examples I can think of is the darkness at the wall, Captain Shakespeare’s ship in flight, the falling of the Star and the final fight sequence. All of these made it feel epic and worthy of being on the big screen. Ben Davis did great.

The Music – The music has a “Pirates of the Caribbean” feel which worked in it’s favor, as Sky Pirates appear at one point and the witches and older society it takes place in in our world and Stormhold add ambiance and tension to the world. IIan Eshkeri was the right guy for this film.

The World – I’m largely going to talk about Stormhold here but even the world of England presented is fascinating, as an old man guards the Wall to keep people from getting into Stormhold. Stormhold is a rich world full of royal intrigue, dangerous witches, stars that are living human beings and Sky Pirates. There is so much to love here and I can’t wait to read the book that inspired it all!

The Characters

Dunstan Thorn – The story really starts with him as he crosses the wall and spends a night with the enslaved princess Una. They have a great experience together as she is the experienced person who knows her world and he is the wide eyed idealist. We see him care for his son after too as it was the one thing she wanted from him since he couldn’t rescue her. We also see him support his son Tristan to cross the wall and gives him a Babylon Candle to do so. I wish we’d gotten more of old and young Dunstan. This is where this as a mini-series might have worked better. Ben Barnes (young Dunstan) and Nathaniel Parker (old Dustan) are fantastic in what time they have though.

Princess Una – Uses what little power she has to resist and gives a gift that protects her son Tristan from the witches. I really wish she’d been the one chosen to rule as near the end she’s the one helping Tristan and Yvaine fight back against Lamia and her coven. She was a great but underutilized character. Kate Magowan did well with what she was given.

Prince Septimus – Is an antagonist for most of the film and Mark Strong does a really good job with it as we see him off some of his brothers and try to capture the fallen Star. He is brutal but has complexity too as he works with Tristan in the final fight against Lamia and her coven. His biggest problem is he never brings enough men and he lacks any sort of empathy which is when he is helping Tristan near the end and when he dies it is hard to fully sympathize with him in any way.

Lamia – Michelle Pfeiffer makes a great villain. Her witch is the final boss of the film and deserves the role as we see her be the one with the highest body count at the end and it takes multiple characters to finally defeat her. We see a bit of humanity (even if it was possibly false) when she mourns the death of her Coven Sisters and goes super sayan for the final battle.

Tristan Thorn – He’s the generic hero but he does a good job at the generic hero. He realizes that he just like Victoria because she was attractive but didn’t know her as a person and that his time spent with Yvaine showed him what love actually is. He also goes through a great training montage with Captain Shakespeare and his crew. Charlie Cox is good in the role even if he isn’t great.

Yvaine – At times she needs to be saved, other times she does the saving. Her character is the fish out of water as she was cast out of the kingdom by the King before he died and so many factions are trying to get her it would have been easy to make her a plot device. Thankfully that didn’t happen. She also gets the final kill on Lamia when she goes Nova at the end as she and Tristan are sharing their love. Claire Danes was good.

Captain Shakespeare – This is one of the best roles I’ve seen Robert De Niro in. He plays a gay Sky Pirate and is fantastic! His character is written with respect as he shows the life he can’t show his crew to Tristan and Yvainne when he trains them how to capture lightning and to be self sufficient. He gives them cover stories and idealizes England as he’s heard stories about it. At one point he is revealed when he is cross dressing and Prince Septimus attacks, but it doesn’t matter as his crew always cared about him for who he is of which his sexuality is part of. He is my favorite character in the film and I’d watch or read a story just about his adventures.

The Message – Love – The message of love is great in that it is learning to love others and be open, honest and risk for those you care about…and to see beyond appearances. As Victoria was all about appearances and not connection, and Captain Shakespeare learned the appearance he put on didn’t matter as his crew loved him anyway for the man he was. It also expressed love knows no gender or sex and is greater than that. It’s caring for others and yourself and being a part of something greater.

The Cons: The Ghost Peanut Gallery – Every time a prince dies or someone who could become king they appear how they died and do commentary on the events going on. This got really annoying really fast and took away the drama that should have occurred when one of them died.

The Random Princes – There are a few princes who die or royalty who die who aren’t worth mentioning. They were there for comedic relief and failed at that, which hurt the drama of the chase for the crown and the drama with the witches.

The Side Characters – From the other two witches, to Lamia’s slaves and countless others…they don’t feel all that deep or interesting. They are pretty much background which would have served the story better if they were.

“Stardust” is a great movie and one I’d highly recommend. My hope is that future book adaptions of Gaiman’s work can be just as good if not better since the worlds he creates inspire the writing in my own. This movie had a great cast, great directing, music and cinematography and is well worth watching if you are a fan of fantasy.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great.