Films set in a dystopian future will hold your interest for maybe the first half an hour but will always, eventually, need a decent story or at least a narrative that makes sense, to maintain my focus and attention. Part of the “fun” with a film set in a dark, grim future is the unfolding of the world. What are the “rules” or “laws?” What makes this future scary, stupid or ridiculous? What part does our “hero” play in this dark, new and maybe inevitable world? These intriguing questions will only last for a while before you need your hero to actually do something!
I know I was probably asking a bit much watching a Terry Gilliam film anyway. I have loved some of his earlier stuff, in particular 12 Monkeys, but he isn’t known for the most straight forward of narratives or crafting films that are easy to follow. Brazil wasn’t complicated, the actual vision of a dark, oppressive future was impressive but, eventually, I got bored with this.
The beginning was very interesting as the world slowly unfolded for our main character. The initial clerical error that creates the whole spark of a plot for the film made for an interesting aspect of the dystopian world Gilliam had created but it eventually became a trek through silly moment to silly moment with no real, proper narrative. There was a weak story about our hero, Sam Lowry, trying to find a girl he had dreamt about in the maze of bureaucracy that plagued this new future, but it’s never enough to hold my attention and even this story begins to lose its way in the middle of the film.
It seems that Gilliam is more concerned with presenting stunning environments and glossy looking dream sequences than putting together a story that works. I have read or watched other future, dystopian films that have managed to present a world through the story, rather than try to force a story into a cool world. Equilibrium did this well, with the idea of no emotions being the driving force for both the dystopian world and the narrative of the film. Of course, Gilliam is clearly influenced by 1984, another narrative that uses the dystopian world to present a story rather than relying on it as its centre-piece.
It’s a real shame too because there are some very positive things about Brazil. First and foremost is the random appearance at key moments by Robert De Niro. He plays an illegal air conditioning engineer and freedom fighting hero that Sam looks up to. He is a random casting choice and feels a bit wasted in this very small role but does get to do and say some very cool things. The same goes for Bob Hoskins who I love to watch in any film. He is the opposite to De Niro’s character but no less funny or cool when he does show up.
There are also some very cool ideas. The nonchalant attitude people have to terrorist attacks, the ever-increasing, extreme plastic surgery that is taking place and of course the reliance on paper and bureaucracy that is centre to some of the films events. They all serve that purpose of highlighting what is deemed as “troubling” when the film was released and what may cause the dystopian future in the film to occur in real life. This becomes particularly poignant for things like the large skyscrapers and the reliance on air conditioning because of the worsening environment.
Unfortunately, Gilliam just tries to be too clever. The film isn’t complicated or difficult to follow but the narrative isn’t straight forward or told in the simplest possible way. What is basically a story about Sam Lowry trying to find the girl of his dreams (literally) and realise his purpose in this dark, grim world, is told in a long-winded, sometimes abstract and silly way. The film ends up being about half an hour too long and the resolution to the whole story isn’t satisfying enough to justify sitting through the overly long movie.
Overall, a disappointing Gilliam film that relies too much on its very well realised environment and not enough on a good, straight forward narrative. It has some great moments and cool actors involved and Gilliam creates a great vision of a dystopian future but it’s not enough to keep my interest. The story should come first, not the world he wants to show to us all.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)