20 April 2011


The world of Brazil is complex and rich, but for all its über-Gilliamesque intricacies that fold in on themselves, it never feels arbitrary, or odd just for oddness's sake. Maybe the best thing about the world of Brazil (and probably what makes it such a lasting and resonant film) is that for all the deep weirdness -- weirdness that goes far beyond just the surface of this world -- it's ideologically consistent. It's a study in bureaucracy that takes itself seriously enough to build up a layered world and it applies the skewed philosophy to every layer. It's populated with characters just as "ideologically consistent" as the world: petty and small-minded, people who can only see their corner of the puzzle, but who sympathetic and layered enough to be more than just props or fill-ins for necessary roles.

Actually, the characters here remind me of what I've been saying about science fictions films I've seen lately: it seems to me an easy (read: lazy) mistake to create the perfect character for the role you need him or her to fill just so your story can move along the beats you want it to. Seems like it would always be better storytelling if you put the wrong person for the job and then find a way to make them the right person, though their choices and actions. Instead of a washed-out astronaut hero with nothing to lose, why not make him a guilt-ridden alcoholic who can barely keep his shit together and has three kids back home he's ashamed of himself for neglecting? Now, when the Martian Almond Aliens ask him to join them on a crazy adventure to the center of the galaxy, you have your hero faced with an extremely difficult decision rather than a no-bainer.

In Brazil, Sam Lowry is a pointedly unambitious, keep-your-head-down man who not only believes in the bureaucracy of the system, but is perfectly happy to be nothing but another cog. His old friend Jack Lint is one of the main antagonists in the story (the true antagonist here is The System, with Jack as a common stand-in) not to mention a torturer and murderer, and yet Jack is the nicest, warmest man in the Ministry, an ambitious ladder-climber but also a capable husband and father (in a detached, working-dad/yuppie sort of way). Sam's old boss Mr. Kurtzmann, head of the Department of Records, isn't the right man for the job, traditionally speaking: he's a sniveling coward who can't control his work force, doesn't understand half the equipment in his office, and is so absolutely terrified of the culpability that comes along with committing any kind of action whatsoever that he fakes an injury to get out of signing his name to a document (arguably, in the world of Brazil these things add up to make him the exactly right person for the job of Head of Department of Records). Harry Tuttle, Jill Layton, Ida Lowry, and even the two mean-spirited bunglers from Central Services are just as good examples of the not-perfect person for the role they play. In each case, it's not as simple as choosing the polar opposite of what the role ought to require -- it's messier than that, and that's the point. But each character either struggles with himself or contradicts himself and his nature and that keeps the story dynamic, entertaining, and somewhat more nuanced.

I also went through the first act and did a beat analysis, studying how we move into the story and get the necessary exposition out there. Not shockingly, Brazil fares somewhat better than the other films I've watched this month. First, the exposition delivery systems (the method by which they dump all that info on us) are original and dynamic; second, they're entertaining and humorous; third, each moment and shot manages to work on a minimum of two levels (e.g., backstory and world-building; theme and characterization). It's just -- it's a classic. A tight, beautiful script, completely madcap but firmly controlled, directed by the right guy.

I didn't get into the visuals or the dream sequence or the art/effects/framing, but all of those are just as inspired and multi-layered as the stuff I did rave about. And the visuals! the flying-through-the-clouds dreams, the bizarre ducts-and-wires Rube Goldberg-meets-Orwell nightmare world, the miniatures throughout -- they're all so fucking pretty! Like I said, a classic. Hardly news to anybody: it deserves its reputation.

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