8/3/12

Brazil (1985)

Welcome to part two of our look at Terry Gilliam's



All you latecomers can check my discussion of
Time Bandits for a proper intro.
Then come straight back here, and head on over to
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen afterward.
Everyone else...<hr> tag.



Dear Sid Sheinberg,
When are you going to release my film, 'BRAZIL'?
Terry Gilliam

This was from a full-page ad that Gilliam took out in a 1985 issue of Variety. It was addressed to Universal Pictures head Sid Sheinberg, whose company had obtained the U.S. distribution rights to Gilliam's newest movie Brazil, but were holding off on its release. The studio didn't think that the original ending of Gilliam's cut would test well with audiences and were toying with the idea of re-editing the film to give it a "happily-ever-after" ending to make it more marketable.

Gilliam disagreed with this idea, and for a while Brazil was left in cinematic limbo while the director fought with the studio. In the meantime, Gilliam held several unapproved private screenings of the film to Hollywood critics and to students at a lecture at USC. It managed to impress the Los Angeles Film Critics Association enough to be named Best Film of the Year, and with such praise Universal had no choice but to give in to Gilliam's demands and release it unedited.

The movie finally came out stateside in December of 1985, ten months after it premiered in Europe. Of course it wound up making more money there than it did here, but it's a cult classic now, so who cares.

And it didn't stop Sheinberg from releasing a 94-minute "Love Conquers All" version which actually made it to television.

We'll be looking at the original two-and-a-half-hour cut because a) I don't like watching re-edited movies, and b) I don't care much for Hollywood endings.


The film takes place, as the opening captions dictate, "somewhere in the 20th century", which would probably suggest an alternate timeline in world history, in a city not unlike that in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, where everyone has either a British or American accent. The Ministry of Information, the all-knowing, all-seeing body that rules over wherever this movie takes place, rules with an Orwellian fist thanks to its system of charging suspects for their incarceration and the information they interrogate them for.

It's a system which values efficiency, and little else...especially not building safety codes. You see many many ducts and pipes coming out of the walls and the ceilings of everywhere. It's very claustrophobic and I'm not even sure most of them are even for heating and AC. But they don't care. The movie even starts with a commercial advertising new designer ducts at your local Central Services showroom.

Oh yeah, and there's the classic 1984 tactic of setting off random explosions in public places from time to time so as to make you think there are terrorists about.

"Happy Christmas, everyone! ...oh, and OCEANIA HAS ALWAYS BEEN AT WAR WITH EASTASIA."

Jonathan Pryce stars as Sam Lowry, a white-collar employee working for the Ministry. Sam is a low-level government worker, no wife, no girlfriend, he's henpecked by his mother (Katherine Helmond), an overbearing woman who along with her friends is seriously addicted to plastic surgery. At his job, he is also prone to daydreaming that he is a winged knight sailing through the skies after a beautiful maiden in the clouds.

Truly a prime candidate for the Anti-Sex League.

And that he is also David Bowie.

On this particular day, Sam is assigned by his boss, whom Gilliam has reverently named Mr. Kurtzmann (Ian Holm) to look into a clerical error where a dead fly jammed in the printer has caused a typo on a government document regarding a Mr. Harry Tuttle, a rogue element, and the subsequent wrongful arrest of a Mr. Archibald Buttle, loving husband and father of two. Apparently they'd overcharged Mr. Buttle for what little info they got out of him, and Sam is told to rectify it as well as deliver a refund check to his grieving widow (apparently Buttle's heart condition never turned up on Tuttle's papers).

Meanwhile, the Buttles' upstairs neighbor Jill (Kim Griest) is trying to get to the bottom of this whole mix-up in hopes of discovering what happened to Mr. Buttle, but the higher-ups at the Ministry refuse to cooperate and have even branded her as an enemy of the state for trying to bring their administrative error to light. And, as it happens, she looks just like the girl in Sam's recurring daydreams.

"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you sign can and will be deducted from your bank account in a court of law."

Also, on one night where the heating system in his apartment breaks down, Sam is unexpectedly visited by the REAL Harry Tuttle (Robert De Niro), a renegade central heating repair guy who left the government payroll a while back because he couldn't stand the paperwork. Unfortunately, his presence makes enemies of two Central Services maintenance guys (played by Bob Hoskins and Derrick O'Connor) who rip out all of Sam's ductwork and then kick him out of his flat so they can "fix it."

Throughout, Sam's recurring dreams start turning Freudian as he now has to save his dream-Jill from baby-faced ghouls, monsters who look very much like Mr. Kurtzmann and Mrs. Buttle and her children, and a ferocious samurai warrior sitting atop a pile of rubble all lit up in neon.

And that's about the first two-thirds of the film right there.

Also, former Time Bandit Jack Purvis appears as a rival plastic surgeon to Jim Broadbent at one of Sam's mother's fancy parties. Thought I'd mention that for continuity's sake.

Holy crap. ...is that a shoe on her head?

Using his new-found government connections--his best friend Jack (recurring Python alumnus Michael Palin) and his mother's ties to Deputy Minister Jeremiah Helpmann (Peter Vaughan), a leader who talks a lot of nonsense, most of it in cricket metaphors--Sam finally gets to meet the appropriately freaked out Jill just as she is staring down several gun barrels hoisted by many heavily-armed policemen. What follows is a chase scene where Sam tries to confess to Jill and Jill tries to lose him while driving a truck through a construction site and finally escapes through a fancy department store during a conveniently-timed "terrorist attack."

He sneaks back into the Ministry to tamper with some records to have Jill declared legally dead and call off the storm troopers, and after that he finds her again and the two of them enjoy a passionate night of romance with Jill strangely wearing a wig making her look like the damsel in distress of his fantasies.

The next morning Sam and Jill are just about to make plans for Hate Week when they are rudely awakened by the sound of policemen barging in and surrounding them with machine guns.

At least Winston and Julia both got to live.

Read the book.


"I never wanted to be a bureaucrat anyway. I wanted to be a lumberjack..."

Sam is charged with treason for abusing his position and is strapped to a chair inside of a nuclear cooling tower where his old (as in, ex-) friend Jack wears a baby doll mask from his dreams and is about to perform a very surgical interrogation. (Jill is revealed to have been shot while resisting arrest.) Suddenly a gaping hole appears in Jack's brain as Tuttle reappears with some similarly-dressed gentlemen to rescue Sam and blow up the Ministry. Guns blaze, more things explode, and we even get a nice Battleship Potemkin reference.

From this point on, things get very stream-of-consciousness. Tuttle disappears in a stream of papers, Sam arrives at a funeral for one of his mother's friends (who had died of complications from complications from complications from her latest facelift) and finds that his mom looks eerily like Jill and has become a cougar, he falls into the casket and runs through a world lifted from his daydreams with monsters and soldiers and things chasing after him, next thing he knows he's in a trailer truck with the very-much-alive-and-kicking Jill in the driver's seat. And so the two of them drive out of the city and off into the countryside, where they settle down together and live happily ever--

Hey! You! Get offa my cloud!

Oh. Err, okay. So it turns out that last bit was all in Sam's head the whole time. He's dreaming again. Jack and Mr. Helpmann observe, fear they've lost him as they exit the room and leave him alone with his thoughts, humming the title song/recurring motif.

Damn. So Big Brother wins. Again.

Or...maybe Sam does. Somehow.

Well, the audience wins, anyway, because Brazil is a freaking EXTRAVAGANZA. Screw its two-and-a-half hour running time, I loved it.

I don't see why Universal felt cutting the ending would make it a better film. It's about a guy who daydreams a lot. So what, the daydreams suddenly become real? His bosses and his mom and everything else made his life such a living hell that the fates decide to cut him a break? I haven't seen the "Love Conquers All" version, but I'd hardly think a boy-gets-the-girl conclusion would mesh well with the whole escapism theme. Besides, George Orwell's novel didn't have a happy ending either, and IT worked.

Also, typical of Gilliam's efforts, it is SPECTACULAR to look at, probably even more so than Time Bandits. A lot is made of the use of perspective in the camera work which makes for eye-popping cinematography, whereas the art design is a very unique blend of futuristic technology and retro film noir elements--I particularly liked the Ministry of Information interiors that resemble a 1940s newspaper office and the use of giant magnifying lenses and typewriter keyboards as a makeshift desktop computer.

AND its vision of modern society is frighteningly prophetic. Think about it--a consumerist people that's fanatically obsessed with money, credit ratings, and appearances, buried up to their eyebrows in red tape, plagued by invisible "terrorists" who may or may not exist, concerned with efficiency to the exclusion of most everything else including conscience or craftsmanship, and they'd never in a million years admit that they're wrong.

Not bad for a guy who admits he's never even READ 1984.

A pictoral metaphor two reviews in a row. You know I spoil you people.

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