International Writers Magazine: Review
Directed by Terry Gilliam.
Written by Terry Gilliam and Tom Stoppard.
Starring Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian
Holm, Bob Hoskins and Michael Palin.
Russ Thomas reappraisal
With such films
as Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Time Bandits
behind him, one has to expect a little surrealism when it comes
to Terry Gilliam. Although Brazil is an adaptation of George
Orwells dystopian novel Nineteen Eight-Four, his take
on it, as can be imagined, is different; his films are distinctive,
and this is no exception.
Gilliam borrows ideas from Nineteen Eighty-Four, following a bureaucrat
named Sam Lowry (Jonathon Pryce) as he attempts to survive in an authoritarian
world. We are introduced to the character during a dream sequence, in
which he is flying in amongst some clouds, with a woman. It is this woman
of his dreams whom he spends a large part of the film trying to
find. Along the way, Sam is faced with the problems of a pushy mother,
a tedious bureaucracy, a dangerous government and the threat of terrorist
bombings. The dream sequences are a continuing motif throughout the film.
Unfortunately they look dated, but they work alongside the main storyline
to illustrate the events symbollically.
While Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four attempts to warn against such
a society, Gilliam satirises it. He seems to have been tired of the way
people behave, the government and the public this can be seen through
the nonchalant way in which, for example, people out shopping react to
a terrorist bomb. It is peoples inability to care anymore that he
portrays. Gilliam tries to satirise the dead-end veneer of
the society the content, but isolated, nature of the population.
This is the key difference between the film and the book on which it is
loosely based; Gilliam is seeing modern society change into what Orwell
feared it might.
seems to have been only partly in mind when Brazil was produced.
Visually the film is impressive, but often its surreal progression
is so hard to follow that occasionally the only things to appreciate
are the visuals. And even then, one is hard-pressed to understand
those. This was a letdown. If the film was easier to follow, it
would be much more likeable.
It is littered with symbolism (especially in the dream sequences), special
effects, and deliberately dreary scenery to accompany the mood of the
film. It is comic in places, typical of Terry Gilliams directing
and writing style, perhaps to hook the audience in, or perhaps more on
simple whim. Small things in the film are funny. Bob Hoskins vindictive
plumber, De Niro as the plumber terrorist, the bubblecar Johnathan Pryce
drives, the food in the restaurants...
Nineteen Eighty-Four is not amusing at all it comes from
the mind of a political essayist. However, one can find something humourous
in the book; maybe it will be the ridiculous concept of such a dystopian
world. But Brazil? Gilliam takes note that we have arrived very
close to such a world, and satirises the governmental control, the sobriety
of the general public, office jobs and plastic surgery in an even more
restrictive, uncaring world than ours.
© Russell Thomas November 2007
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