In 500 Words: Brazil

PREFACE: This is another review I wanted to get around to writing because I’d been so eager to see this film, and now I have. Again, the review is exactly 500 words. Count them if you don’t believe me. No movie news right now, but things are a-happenin’, so expect an update by tomorrow afternoon. And now, without further ado:

Brazil is a classic of modern cinema and perhaps the best film to emerge from the pop-culture hell that was the 1980’s, but you’ll hate it if you watch it for the story.

I’ll admit it: I LOVE Terry Gilliam’s films. I would be the first to be a Terry Gilliam apologist, if there was anything to apologize for (except for Brothers Grimm; there was no excuse for that). What Gilliam does exceptionally well is craft a completely immersive world. That world is what Brazil is all about; the story here is merely a device with which to show us the world Gilliam creates. And of all his films, Brazil is Gilliam’s most ambitious.

Set in a place described only as “somewhere in the 20th century,” we can immediately discern (based on several large explosions and militaristic police operations towards the front of the film) that there are a number of things that have gone horribly wrong in this society. More unsettling, however, are the little glitches—the things that are just a bit off. The elevators tend to stop a foot or two shy of their intended destination. Once-beautiful architecture is now attacked from all sides by tangles of ductwork. The plastic surgeon stretches the woman’s face just a bit too far—and himself appears to be made entirely of plastic.

What I love about the grotesque society presented in this film is that it is so obviously and unabashedly a comment on our own society: bureaucracy, plastic surgery, even thermostat repair—all taken to their absolute extremes. What we are offered here is an objective view of our own madness. One of my favorite moments of the film is during a chase scene in which the police (the “bad guys”) crash their vehicle, which explodes into a fireball. Our protagonist celebrates this victory with excited whoops—until one of the “bad guys” opens the door of the burning vehicle, staggers out, his clothes on fire, and dies in the street. In that moment, Gilliam unleashes on his audience a tremendous gotcha—calling us out on our lust for wanton destruction and our desire to see the protagonist prevail at any cost. There are precious few moments like this in cinema, and this one is to be particularly cherished because it is impossible to anticipate, nor does the film dwell on it afterwards. It is merely presented to us as evidence that we are implicit in what we see on screen.

Add to this the fantastic visual style of Terry Gilliam and absolutely stunning special effects that still hold up after twenty-one years and you get a film that is a feast for the eyes and mind and you get a film that is wonderful to watch, if you’re prepared for it. You need to go in prepared to be stimulated, not entertained. Keep your eyes open and pay attention to every frame and you will have a film experience not paralleled before or since.

4 thoughts on “In 500 Words: Brazil

  1. Well, now I’m a liar. Word counted the capitalized “LOVE” as not a word, so if you include your “upper-case abuse” it is 500 words… EXCEPT that the word twenty-one is one word despite its hyphenation. Anyone who says otherwise is a failure at gramatical conventions (and yes, I realized that gramatical conventions is a silly phrase).

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