Skip to main content

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #83: Brazil

Dystopian movies from the 1980s are a funny thing since we now live in the future of those movies and if you look at the news for more than five minutes it will feel as though we are one bad day away from being into a dystopia. On the plus side, if it ends up looking like the dystopia portrayed in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) at least we will have lovely architecture to look at while the government is busy telling us how to think. This might not be a movie that will cheer you up, but the production design is amazing, the performances are great throughout, and you get to see Robert DeNiro play a maintenance man/freedom fighter.  

I first saw Brazil as a Terry Gilliam double feature at the Université de Sherbrooke’s movie club paired along with 12 Monkeys around ten years ago. Those two films are similar in that they both feature a rather dour future and, as with most Gilliam movies, incredibly intricate sets. However the dystopian future in Brazil is somewhat scarier than the disease-ravaged world of 12 Monkeys, since in Brazil a totalitarian government uses inept bureaucracy and torture to get things done. Sound familiar? Then of course there is the ending of Brazil, which I remember caught me and the other viewers by surprise with its uncompromising dourness.

There are many hints of George Orwell’s 1984 in the non-descript world Gilliam has created. It could be somewhere in America or England given the mixture of British and American characters, but either way it is a world filled with towering buildings, surgery-obsessed rich people, and a bureaucracy so flawed a man is tortured and killed because of a typing error. It is a scary world, but even by today’s standards the special effects are so astounding you can’t take your eyes off the screen. One thing that can be said about Gilliam is that the man likes to think big. A torture chamber could be set in just, well, a chamber. He sets it in a huge cylindrical room that is actually the interior of a power station cooling tower.

Within this world lives a dreamer named Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce). Sam is focused with just doing his menial government job in a room filled with other people who seem to be doing exactly the same task. Yet at night he has fantastic dreams of being a great knight in shining armour with wings who rescues a beautiful lady. Much to his astonishment, this lady (Kim Greist) exists in his waking life and has a name, Jill Layton. Could dreams literally come true?

Unfortunately Jill becomes a target of the oppressive government when she uncovers an embarrassing bureaucratic error, so Sam tries to become the knight in shining armour he dreams of being, and finds an ally with Archibald Tuttle (De Niro), a maintenance man who became a terrorist when he became fed up with government paperwork. However Jill proves to be elusive since unlike Sam she has never dreamed about him and is too busy fighting her own fights to deal with a complete stranger who tells her he’s in love. It is so nice to see a female character who is reliant enough to rescue herself.

As mentioned the ending to this dystopian love story sends quite a shock to the system, but that does not mean Brazil should be avoided. It is in fact absolutely worth seeing for Jonathan Pryce’s performance as the would-be-hero Sam, Robert De Niro as the most entertaining terrorist you will ever see, and Michael Palin as the world’s friendliest torturer. Given the current rise in far-right politics across the globe and the fact 1984 is once again a best seller, Brazil is worth a re-watch for anyone who feels overwhelmed by current events. Like Tuttle said, “We’re all in this together.”  


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #316: Trainspotting

In the 1990s Hollywood directors were the kings of cinema, whether it was for big summer blockbusters or smaller independent films. Guys like James Cameron or Michael Bay would blow up the screens while Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino put the emphasis on snappy dialogue that created relatable characters for the moviegoers. Then in 1996, as if to scream “we can do this too,” Danny Boyle released Trainspotting in the United Kingdom.
Based on a novel by Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, the movie took the world by storm despite having no explosions, a cast of actors who were relatively unknown and a budget that today could barely pay for the catering of a Transformers movie. Furthermore this is not the story of young people going to college to enter a life full of promise, but about young heroine addicts meandering through the streets of Edinburgh. Despite introducing these characters during an energetic montage set to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge in …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #364: Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers (1994) is not so much a movie as an American nightmare come to life. Loosely based on a story by Quentin Tarantino, starring some of the wildest actors in Hollywood at the time, and boasting a level of violence that unfortunately inspired copycat crimes, it is the textbook definition of controversial. In all fairness there are important messages amidst all the violent mayhem, but director Oliver Stone throws so much content at the screen that these messages can sometimes get lost in the carnage.
Even though the movie came out more than two decades ago it still has a legendary status, which I learned about while reading a chapter in a book about Tarantino’s career. The book, Quintessential Tarantino, contained a lot of interesting facts about the making of the movie and also spoiled the ending, but reading a few words that describe a killing spree is very different than seeing it portrayed on screen. A few years ago the director’s cut became available on Netflix, wh…