Terry Gilliam is one eccentric filmmaker, but he is one I do tend to like. Of the films of his I’ve seen, I believe I’ve enjoyed every one, and that includes today’s entry, the dystopian sci-fi opus Brazil. The title was a bit of an odd quirk; the film takes its title from the main musical track featured throughout the film, which plays into the daydreams and fantasies undertaken by our main character, and really, that would be how I would best describe Brazil (or any Terry Gilliam film): an elaborate fantasy or daydream put to celluloid. With Brazil, the fantasy may not exactly be one that you would enjoy having, like most fantasies, but there’s such an aura of dreaminess about the film that to describe it any other way would be too far off the mark.
Jonathan Pryce, in what he would describe as the highlight of his career, plays Sam Lowry, a low-level worker drone in a bureaucratic oppressive government regime, where everything is deemed perfect as is, and any problems or mistakes that come up are ignored or swept under the rug in any way possible, resulting in a society that is barely held together at the seams. To escape his dreary world, Lowry frequently has elaborate daydreams about being an angelic knight, battling monstrous demons and saving a mysterious damsel in distress. So when a hiccup in the system leads him to come in contact with Jill, the woman from his dreams in corporeal form, he begins abusing the system and pulling it apart just to find out more about the woman and how to get to her. To call this film Orwellian is to be far, far too obvious; the influences of 1984 are impossible to ignore, though being a British film, it is played up for sarcasm and tongue-in-cheek metaphor rather than for strict oppression. This is probably the most claustrophobic film I’ve seen outside of Das Boot. All the use of close-ups, extremely narrow lenses, and production design that emphasizes close, cramped quarters makes the presence of the film unbelievably suffocating; we are enclosed on all sides by Gilliam’s totalitarian vision, as we are meant to be. Each individual character is played to perfection by their respective actors, and indeed Pryce gives what must have been the performance of his career, though the film and its universe being what it is, you wouldn’t think to notice it. The score, which includes the title track often, seems to enhance the whimsy of the film, and even though it seemed out of place at first, it grew on me as the film went on. Oh, and one other sequence of note: the film even has probably the most amusing and absurd nod to the Odessa steps sequence of Battleship Potemkin that I have ever seen, and it was a nice little surprise when I caught the reference, even if it partially took me out of the film to do so.
What surprised me the most was that, even though the film was made squarely in the 1980s, not only was it not obviously an 80s film, it didn’t really feel dated at all. I think that’s what I like best about really good and notable sci-fi; because it takes place in its own central and fully realized world, we can better immerse ourselves in the fictional universe that the film (or any other type of media) has created, and forgive it some discrepancies since we know the world we are exploring is decidedly alternate to reality. It makes for a much more fully-fleshed out experience, and many of my favorite films have this quality about them, so I was probably predisposed to like Brazil. It was a little too British for me at times, but for the most part, it was quite enjoyable, and given how well regarded it is for both the time it was released and how time has handled its reception, you can rest a little easier knowing that this will leave you in good hands, as long as you can take a very British sense of humor and storytelling.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10