Brazil – The Perfect Dystopia

This is my third Terry Gilliam film that I’m watching (the first two being Time Bandits and 12 Monkeys). And he’s definitely made his way to my list of top 5 favourite directors. 

The Dystopia

I love Gilliam purely for the way he’s able to create a psychological effect through his films. I’ve heard of the word “dystopia” and I have read that it means a bleak futuristic vision of how things go wrong for mankind in the future. But, could there be a better depiction of dystopia than Brazil? Difficult to say. 

Every single apparatus, every single invention of the futuristic world in Brazil is clunky, grimy and extremely user-unfriendly. Be it the air-conditioning pipes with their puffing and panting, the moving bus door that remains shut even when a person is jammed in between, the grainy picture tubes in offices, the device with an eyeball at its tip that tries to closely monitor the girl, the automated home appliances that can’t make a proper breakfast or the procedures used by the doctor to make the old hag look young. Each one of these inventions have been worked out with such intricate detail. And the detailing has been done with the aim of evoking a feeling of disgust, a feeling of hatred, a feeling of being caged and entangled and bound up. This bleak, futuristic world and all its inventions suffocate you to such an extent that when you watch the protagonist soaring in the air as a superhero with flapping wings, you share his sense of freedom. You breathe the fresh air and feel the wind on your face along with him.


The Monty Pythonish Humour

There were several moments in the film where I caught a whiff of Monty Python, especially the restaurant scene in which the place gets bombed. And yet, the waiters continue to serve food to the ladies after putting up a temporary barricade, behind which fire fighters try to control the situation. And that hotel menu was simply hilarious! Every single item being exactly the same except for some very minor color difference.

And the gag with a shared desk between two cubicles and the gag with the protagonist’s boss getting worked up over a returned cheque and not knowing what to do with it were once again typical Monty Python style! And they were terrific!

And the best gag of them all was the boss who’s constantly on the move, followed by a horde of assistants who keep firing questions at him and he’s able to fire back answers even before some of those questions are asked. This is one of the most scathing satirical comments on offices and it plays extremely well as a visual gag. When the protagonist arrives at the floor he’s supposed to work at and he finds it unusually empty and silent, we feel a sense of dread and fear. But, that soon gives way to extreme comic relief when we notice that the reason the whole place is empty is because they’re all following the boss as he struts around. This gag has Monty Python written all over it!


The Music & the climax

In an interview, Gilliam revealed how the spark for this film came to him after listening to the song called Brazil. I’m already a big fan of the 12 Monkeys theme and now in this film he has made me fall in love with the Brazil song. He confessed that he wrote the script so that this song could play at the end. And he wanted the protagonist to end up in a situation, where he’d much rather go mad than remain sane. And he worked the plot towards that end. And that’s how we, as an audience, feel too. In the climax, when it’s revealed to us that the protagonist is actually daydreaming and that he’s still stuck in the prison, we’re relieved too.

And this is where Terry Gilliam shows us he’s a master. The climax twist that it’s all an imagination isn’t a twist that jumps at you and bites your back. It’s a twist that he has built to steadily throughout the film. The screenplay is structured such that at regular intervals we cut to the protagonist’s mental space in which he battles monsters and tries to rescue the damsel in distress. If you think of it, the climax makes you question the reality depicted in the film itself. Maybe everything that we see in the film never really happened and is the complete imagination of one of the inmates who’s found sitting alone in the last frame of the film. How are we to tell?


If you liked this film, I recommend watching this documentary about its making.

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