#TerryGilliam is no stranger to oddball characters in less-than-normal circumstances. He's the kind of filmmaker that embraces his characters' madness and puts them out on display for all the world to see in an attempt to normalize their lunacy.
In #Brazil, Gilliam delivers a world that is as Orwellian as it is reminiscent of Fritz Lang's silent film Metropolis. We meet a disenchanted Jonathan Pryce playing the titular role of Sam Lowry, a suit who dreams of a woman and freedom above the constricting towers of his city. Lowry's journey takes us to the fringe of fantasy and reality where his imagination and dismal bureaucratic life intersect. When he's not dreaming of being a white-winged knight who travels the skies, he's off chasing after a woman who resembles the one from his dreams. His mother (played by the intoxicating Katherine Helmond) is another brick in the wall of the world he's so adamant to run away from.
Beneath this dystopian narrative, there are several pieces of commentary Gilliam offers about modern-day society that shouldn't go unnoticed.
'Happiness, We're All In It Together'
Throughout the film, we're constantly reminded that "we're all in it together." Though it is never truly defined, we see constant reminders that happiness can only be had when everyone follows the rules and regulations set forth by a bureaucratic society that thrives when no one asks questions. In fact, in one scene there's a poster that reads, "To loose talk is to noose talk, better sealed than sorry."
The characters immersed in the society that Sam Lowry belongs to, but doesn't identify with, are passive and resigned to live a life where freedom is sacrificed in order to keep the engine of society running. If you're a shoe, be satisfied you're a shoe, and never ever try to be anything else. In other words: Don't forge your own path, follow the one that's been laid out for you. Don't deviate from the norm and do what others have done in order to keep society in homeostasis. Don't innovate, replicate. Sound advice in an age where everyone looks the same, sounds the same, and even gives the same gift on Christmas.
A Dream To Remember
At the end of the film, Gilliam has Sam Lowry's character in the middle of a room that looks very similar to the inside of a duct (or Professor Xavier's Cerebro, take your pick), a prominent symbol used to remind viewers of the oppressive presence the government has on its citizens. For the film to end here, after we've learned that his rescue and the survival of Jill Layton is all a fabrication of his imagination, is devastating, but at the same time beautiful. Lowry lived his whole life in a dream world he had to wake up from to enter reality. The final scene shows him finally free from the shackles of life as his body gives in to the pain from the torture he's gone through. He's a piece of the machine that has broken and will never fit back into place again.
As Gilliam puts it:
"To me, that's an optimistic ending. Lowry's imagination is still free and alive; they haven't got that. They may have his body, but they don't have his mind. The girl rescues him and takes him away and they live happily forever; it's only in his mind, but that's sufficient, I think. It's better than nothing, folks!"
'It's Not My Department'
Brazil contains many a scene where violent acts of supposed terrorism disrupt the lives of modern-day society. Slated as taking place somewhere in the 20th century, people have become desensitized to violence because it has been downplayed and swept under the rug so much that when a bomb explodes in the middle of a restaurant it's treated as nothing, if not business as usual. As Lowry digs into a meal he doesn't want to eat and resembles a ball of mush, his mother complains that he ought to do something about the terrorists. He simply replies that he's on his lunch break and that that's not his department.
The incessant need to brush off the responsibility of something as important as the security of their city showcases how disconnected these characters are from what's happening around them, almost as if they're watching it all happen through a lens. This detachment from actual reality and their fabricated reality shows how groomed they've become to succumb to the lies they've been fed. The film goes so far as to mix religion with pleasure as a sign reads "Consumers for Christ," followed by a child asking for a credit card for Christmas. The cycle of complacency as shown in this film is endless because no one wants to take responsibility for anything, not even themselves.
With Vanity And Greed For All
Societies thrive on their citizens' need for vanity and greed. Without vanity, you have no movie stars, no singers, and no models to sell your product. Without greed, you wouldn't have an arms race to be the next big thing, make the next big thing, or find the next big thing. Unfortunately, every society is based on the idea that you can be a consumer or a producer. If you're too poor to consume, you produce for those who do and vice versa.
In Brazil, Mrs. Lowry is a vain woman whose only goal is to look as young as possible in order to woo all the young men she can get her hands on. Time and time again you see her on the arm of a handsome young suitor, far too young to be her companion, but who nonetheless is willing to fulfill the task of giving her pleasure. This obsession with youth leads to her friend's (Mrs. Terrain) death, whose physical deterioration is an example of plastic surgery gone wrong.
Nothing can save these women from themselves and this is where Jill Layton's character is important. She portrays a woman who doesn't need the approval of any man to be confident, independent and opinionated. Her attire is tomboyish compared to the over-the-top outfits Mrs. Lowry dons throughout the film. She's the antithesis to Mrs. Lowry and that's perhaps the main reason that Sam Lowry falls in love with her. She demonstrates a kind of femininity that can only be found when superficiality is thrown out the window.
Brazil may not be for everyone. Nevertheless, the film offers a wonderful critique on the ways that modern-day society can choke the life out of you through technology, consumerism, and the effects these have on the human psyche. The problems in Sam Lowry's world are still relevant today because we've gotten to the point where we live and breathe through the use of technology. The madness that Lowry showcases in the end is more than just the result of society's oppressive demands on its citizens, it's the reason Lowry's character can no longer exist in a world where deviating from the norm is unacceptable. He creates a reality where he can thrive and finally be free.
Any other movies like Brazil out there? Let me know in the comments below.